Record turnout for Biosciences outreach event

September 26th saw the first MBP2 day of the 2012/13 academic year, with record numbers of students queuing to take part in this school-led research project. MBP2 (the Myelin Basic Protein Project) was conceived in 2008 by Dr David Colthurst, biology teacher at the Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys and a former postgraduate student in the School of Biosciences.

MBP2 aims to provide a genuine research experience for year 12/13 pupils, allowing the students to experience modern biomolecular and computational techniques through hands-on experience under the guidance of active university research scientists. The students use modern molecular biological procedures including gene cloning, protein analyses and bioinformatics approaches. The subject of the study is myelin basic protein (MBP), an important molecular component of the neuronal myelin sheath which is thought to malfunction in patients suffering from multiple sclerosis.

This year’s first MBP2 day attracted around 170 students from the Langton, a record number that highlights the popularity of this project with students. This was matched by a record number of participants from the School of Biosciences, as 15 of us (from postgraduate to professorial level) took part in the day. There were also scientific successes, as the students were able to demonstrate the production of recombinant MBP in yeast and bacterial cells, which now paves the way for studying the post-translational modification patterns of MBP in these heterologous expression hosts.

MBP2 is one example among the School of Biosciences’ outreach portfolio that has demonstrable impact. Since conception of the project, the numbers of students studying biology at the Simon Langton has more than doubled. The project has also raised awareness of multiple sclerosis, with increasing numbers of students acting as occasional volunteer helpers or fund-raisers for the MS Society Centre neighbouring Simon Langton. MBP2 has now gone on to inspire similar projects by School/University partnerships across England, under the Wellcome Trust funded “Authentic Biology” programme. The School of Biosciences also recently applied for a Guardian HE award based on their involvement in this pioneering project.