I went to my first ever protest today. I wasn't a protesting type as a student. I wrote a few letters, I signed a few petitions, but I mostly studied. Since then I have been involved – I have campaigned and fundraised, but never protested. But 2016 happened, along with Donald Trump and Brexit. I learned about echo chambers, and the elite, and experts, and post-truth. I heard about 'alternative facts'. I saw hatred for people because they were Eastern European, or brown, or female, or educated, or simply had different views. And it seemed like everything that I thought I knew about the civilised and intelligent world just wasn't true.
And all of this made me sad. It hurt, like I had lost something I cared about, or someone had pared my outer skin away. I clung onto science, because I understood that. And I grieved, as every news story showed me that the world was getting worse, not better.
But then… a friend of mine suggested I make a pussy hat for the women's march in Washington. Our hats went in the post to unknown women and I felt like I had made a tiny bit of a difference. And then someone asked me to moderate a #WomenInScience tweet chat, and I met, virtually, some amazing women.
And today, I joined a line of protestors for the first time in my life for #lasswar. We dressed in jackets, shirts and ties, wore hard hats and hi-viz jackets, and challenged the organisers and delegates of the Northern Powerhouse about the lack of women speaking at the conference and sitting on panels – of 98 speakers, only 13 were women, and all 15 speakers highlighted in the press release were men.
And we seem to have made a difference. We made it into The Guardian. The organisers opened the meeting with an apology, and some of the delegates joined the lunchtime protest. Women speakers opened their sessions with a mention of the imbalance. And the conference has promised to do better next time.
Next. The satellite #ScienceMarch in Manchester on 22 April, to support the worldwide movement of celebration of the passion for science and a call to support and safeguard the scientific community. My sister is knitting me a brain hat. Anyone coming?
This year, BIOPROSP opens on 8 March 2017, which is International Women's Day, and so we are celebrating some of the amazing women speakers and scientists who will be at the conference.
Anne Husbekk: The university city of Tromsø
The ocean holds many secrets. At UiT The Arctic University of Norway, the hunt for the secrets of biologically active and usable molecules has been underway ever since the university was founded. The focus on bioprospecting in the Arctic Ocean has the potential to lead to new therapeutics that are beneficial to patients.
Anne Husbekk is rector and professor of clinical immunology at UiT The Arctic University of Norway, and plays an international role in transfusion medicine and research policy.
Jeanette Hammer Andersen: Success stories involving marine bioactive compounds
Between 1981 and 2014, 63% of the new chemical entities introduced into the clinic originated from, or were inspired by, natural products, and ocean could be the next great source of novel chemistry. The hurdles traditionally related to natural product drug discovery can be overcome by combining state of the art technology with innovative thinking.
Jeanette Hammer Andersen is a professor in marine bioprospecting at UiT The Arctic University of Norway and head of the natural products analytical platform Marbio. Andersen’s research focus is the discovery of novel bioactive compounds from the marine environment.
Dagmar Stengel: Application of algal biomass
Algae are a potential source of valuable compounds with applications in agriculture, food, healthcare, pharma, and cosmetics industries. Before the full potential of algal bioactives can be realized, more needs to be done to understand the natural chemical complexity, variability, and plasticity of algal compounds.
Dagmar Stengel is a senior lecturer at NUI Galway, where she is head of Botany and Plant Science. Her research interests include sustainable use of seaweed resources and optimised cultivation of macro- and microalgal biomass for the production of high value compounds.
Gabrielle Potocki-Veronese: High-throughput functional metagenomics for the discovery of glycan metabolic pathways
Bacteria and fungi produce a range of enzymes to break down the hugely diverse carbohydrates that make up their main carbon sources. Combining biochemical, structural, meta-omic and omic data reveals the mechanisms of glycan metabolization. These fascinating proteins provide new targets to study interactions between prokaryotes and eukaryotes, as well as novel tools for biotechnology.
Gabrielle Potocki-Veronese is a research director at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), with a focus on enzyme discovery through functional metagenomics and in combinatorial protein engineering.
Deniz Tasdemir: New approaches for addressing oceans' dark matters: Cultivability, structure elucidation and imaging
Marine macro- and micro-organisms can be outstanding sources for potent and chemically diverse molecules. However, only about 1% is cultivable, and many biosynthetic gene clusters remain dormant in standard laboratory conditions, meaning that their potential remains hidden. Innovative techniques will help to identify 'new chemistry' from both marine macro-organisms and microbes.
Deniz Tasdemir is a professor at GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel in Germany. She heads up the Marine Natural Products Chemistry research unit and the GEOMAR Centre for Marine Biotechnology. Her research interests include marine natural product discovery from marine invertebrates, algae and microbes.
Theresa Comiskey Olsen: What makes an agreement good?
A good agreement needs a balance in the underlying trust between the parties and the negotiation, as well as an agreement document that covers the rights intended with the level of risk assumed.
Theresa Comiskey Olsen is a US-born lawyer who is a partner at Oslo-based Langseth Advokatfirma DA. She has many year of experience in pharma and biotech, including negotiating and drafting of international agreements, and was General Counsel and Company Secretary for Norwegian pharma company Nycomed.
So, starting on 8 March, which is #IWD2017, #BeBoldForChange and hear some amazing #WomenInScience at BIOPROSP_17.
Tromsø is known worldwide as an arctic city with glorious views of the Northern Lights – what's perhaps less widely known outside parts of the research community is that it is a hotspot of activity for (cold) marine biotechnology.
The most northern city in North Norway, Tromsø is 350 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, and its location near the deep, dark and cold waters of the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean gives it access to plant, animal, bacterial and fungal species that have adapted to living in these extreme conditions. Through understanding the biology of these organisms, scientists are discovering biomolecules found nowhere else in the world and learning about their potential in industrial, medical and environmental biotechnology.
Marine and biotech research in Tromsø
The world's most northern university, UiT: The Arctic University of Norway, is based in Tromsø. The university includes the Institute of Arctic and Marine Biology, which has an aim to become the world's leading arctic ecology research group. This includes a focus on marine food webs in Northern Norwegian and ice-covered arctic waters.
Nofima, one of Europe's largest institutes for applied research in fisheries, aquaculture and food research, is headquartered in Tromsø, and carries out research in Alta, Bergen, Stavanger, Sunndalsøra, Tromsø and Ås. It has been involved in 591 research projects from sea urchin feed to combating salmon lice. Nofima's involvement in the Peptech strategic research initiative will support the region's marine bioeconomy.
Tromsø is home to innovation cluster Biotech North, which focuses on research and commercialization of marine bioactive compounds from the Arctic. It includes Barents Biocentre Lab, which is located at Siva Innovation Centre (formerly Tromsø Science Park).
Examples of biotech companies in Tromsø:
Tromsø is the host for BIOPROSP_17, which in March this year will bring science and business together in its focus on opportunities to unlock the commercial potential of biomolecules from marine environments.
Want to know more? Browse through the full programme, see what's happening at the workshops, and read some of the pieces written about previous conferences: