Monthly Archives: June 2017

Mammalian Genome Mapping Grant awarded to Kent University

Professor Darren Griffin and Dr Becky O’Connor, in collaboration with Dr Denis Larkin at the Royal Veterinary College, London have recently been awarded a 3-year BBSRC grant for a study entitled “Rapid reconstruction of reference chromosome-level mammalian genome assemblies and insight into the mechanisms of gross genomic rearrangement”

We live in an era in which the genomes of new species are being sequenced all the time. The most modern ways to sequence DNA have many advantages over older approaches (the prominent one being a vastly reduced cost) but a problem that arises each time the genome of a new species is sequenced is that assigning large blocks of sequence to an overall genomic “map” can be problematic and/or very expensive. It’s a little like finding your location on Google Maps but not being able to “zoom out” to establish where that position is in relation to the whole country. In essence, the aim of this project is to rectify this problem at one fifth of the current cost. Using our experience with birds we have developed a high-throughput approach and the tools for assigning the sequences to their proper positions in chromosomes. This involves our own adaptations to a technique called “FISH” that can take the data from sequenced genomes and visualize directly blocks of DNA sequence as they appear in their rightful place in the genome.

Sequences of the pig genome visualised on chromosomes using fluorescent probes (FISH)


In this study, we will focus our attention on 25 newly sequenced mammal species. More importantly however we will provide the means through which this can be achieved for any of the 5,000 living mammalian species. Mammals are important to our lives in that many are models for human disease and development and are critical to agriculture (both meat and milk). Others are threatened or endangered and, with impending global warming, molecular tools for the study of their ecology and conservation are essential. Our combined efforts have also developed computer-based browser methods to compare the overall structure of one genome with another, directly visualizing the similarities and differences between the genomes of several animals at a time, something we can share widely amongst the scientific community and general public via the world wide web. The differences between mammalian genomes arose through changes that happened during evolution. One of the main aims of this project is to find out how this occurred and what are implications of these changes. We have a number of ideas such as we think there may be different “signatures” that classify why blocks of genes tend to stay together during evolution. Armed with this information, we fully intend to take it out into the world. The devices that we will develop can be adapted for the screening of individual animals for genomic rearrangements that may cause e.g. breeding problems. Moreover, the resources we will develop provide a source for public information and student learning through a dedicated, outwardly-facing web site. We have received overwhelming support from numerous laboratories all over the world who are interested in using the resources that we will develop to ask biological questions of their own. For this reason, we feel that this project will help us understand evolution in mammals and contribute to establishing the UK as a central international hub of mammalian genomics.

Doctors, Conscience and Abortion Law and Practice Workshop

This is a one-day workshop hosted by the University of Kent, as a collaboration between the Centre for the Interdisciplinary Study of Reproduction (CISoR), the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies (CPCS) and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.

Thursday 29th June 2017

Ground Floor, Cornwallis East Building, University of Kent, Canterbury

Organisers: Dr Ellie Lee (SSPSSR) and Professor Sally Sheldon (Kent Law School), University of Kent

This event is one of a number taking place during 2017, the year of the 50th Anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act. In common with other events, its aim is to promote critical reflection about this legislation. In the academic literature, one widely commented-on feature of the British abortion law is its ‘medicalisation’; that is, the centrality given by law to medical opinion in deciding on access to abortion procedures. While this feature of the abortion legislation has generated a great deal of academic analysis and discussion in the disciplines of law, ethics and sociology, research and discussion about the opinions and experiences of doctors themselves is notably, and curiously, absent from research. The main purpose of this event is to place ‘medical opinion’, as it operates in practice at the centre of a discussion about abortion provision.

The programme takes ‘conscience’ as its core theme. Part of the discussion will consider conscientious objection; its place in abortion legislation (in the 1967 Abortion Act, and in legislation in other jurisdictions) and the issues raised by its invocation by doctors as they ‘opt out’ of abortion provision. In addition to this consideration of ‘doctors who don’t’, however, we will also focus on ‘doctors who do’ through discussion about research that considers the experience of doctors who work to provide abortions.

  • What does this work suggest about the relation between the law, and the practice of abortion provision?
  • How do doctors who provide abortion think about the work they do and its place as part of medical care?
  • What tensions and difficulties mark the present relation between a now 50 year old law and the experience of those legally obliged to make ‘good faith opinions’ about access to abortion?

The day will begin with a presentation by Professor Sally Sheldon about the history of medical opinion in the development of British Abortion law, based on work for the project ‘The Abortion Act: A Biography’. The programme includes discussion about research considering abortion provision in England based on new research led by Dr Ellie Lee, but we will also widen the lens and benefit from a comparative focus. We are delighted to be able to include Dr Lori Freedman and Professor Wendy Chavkin from the US as presenters.

The day is also designed to encourage participation from Postgraduate Researchers with an interest in any aspect of the provision of abortion and contraception. Postgraduate students are invited to contribute Poster Presentations to run alongside the main programme. This part of the day is organised by Verity Pooke (PhD Candidate, University of Kent,


Jennie Bristow, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Canterbury Christ Church University

Wendy Chavkin, Professor Emerita Population and Family Health and Obstetrics and Gynecology

Sylvia De Zordo, Senior Researcher, ERC Starting Grant and Ramón y Cajal Fellow, University of Barcelona, Dept. of Anthropology

Lori Freedman, Assistant Professor, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences, Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health, University of California

Ann Furedi, CEO British Pregnancy Advisory Service

Kate Greasley, Lecturer in Law University College London

Lesley Hoggart, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Health and Social Care at the Open University

Ellie Lee, Director, Centre for Parenting Culture Studies, University of Kent

Patricia Lohr, Medical Director, British Pregnancy Advisory Service

Joanna Mishtal, Associate Professor, Cultural/Medical Anthropology, University of Central Florida

Mary Neal, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Strathclyde

Malcolm Potts, Bixby Chair, Professor in Population and Family Planning, University of California

Sally Sheldon, Professor of Medical Law, University of Kent

Christy Zink, Assistant Professor, University Writing Program, The George Washington University

Pig Breeders Round Table 2017

In April, 70 delegates of the great and the good in the world of pig breeding congregated at the University of Kent campus for the Pig Breeders Round Table – a small, friendly bi-annual meeting. Over the past 40 years this meeting has built up an enviable reputation as one of the best and friendliest international meetings in livestock genetics.

The scientific programme gave both academic and industrial scientists an excellent opportunity to present and discuss new results with an informed and interested audience.  Highlights included the pig genome sequence update, an update on porcine IVF – a route to global sustainability (a join presentation by Canterbury’s two Universities) as well as talks on behavioural deprivation, human trends in animal protein consumption, sexed semen, genome editing, predicting breeding values and sperm morphology. The social programme included a meat tasting session and a lovely dinner at the Marine Hotel, Whitstable.

This year the meeting celebrated its 40 anniversary, always being held in Kent – from its inception at Wye College then, since 2008 here at the University of Kent. Especial thanks go out to the sponsors, JSR Genetics, Topigs Norsvin and Genus.