Volume 1 Number 1

Feature articles


Marine bioluminiscence

Edith A. Widder Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, Fort Pierce, USA. Why do so many animals in the open ocean emit light? Bioluminescence is visible light made by living creatures. Such creatures are rare on land but extremely common in the oceans.

Read the article


John Grainger The University of Reading, UK.
The fermentation processes of yeasts have maintained their importance from the arts and crafts of ancient times to the commercial processes of the modern food and beverage industry. In addition, as the importance of yeasts to both fundamental and applied research became increasingly appreciated in the second half of the 20th century...Read the article


Michael Axelsson, Jordi Altimiras and Koullis Pitsillides Zoologiska Institutionen, Göteborgs universitet, SE.
The way we teach physiology has been and is still undergoing major changes. There is an obvious need to provide a more integrated education that gives students the capacity to confront and solve problems...Read the article

Practical protocols


  • Bacterial illumination Dean Madden , NCBE, The University of Reading, UK. Britt-Marie Lidesten Erik Dahlberggymnasiet, Jönköping, SE. PDF
  • DNA from 'caviar' Elisabeth Strömberg, Department of Zoology, University of Gothenburg, SE. PDF
  • Modelling the helix, John Schollar, NCBE, The University of Reading, UK. PDF
  • Sourdough bread, Dean Madden , NCBE, The University of Reading, UK. PDF
  • The microbial fuel cell, Dean Madden och John Schollar, NCBE, The University of Reading, UK. PDF



Genome - the autobiograpfy of a species in 23 chapters

Matt Ridley (2000) Egmond Richter AB, Malmö.


There are four sorts of books about the human genome project: those that deal with the biology; those that tackle the politics of the enterprise; those that examine its potential consequences and others which combine several of these aspects. Matt Ridley's 'Genome' falls mainly into the first category and quite simply it is the best in its class....Read the full review here

The Sequence Genome

Kevin Davies (2002) Orion, London (Updated edition)
ISBN: 0753813165 (Paperback, 230 pages)


In the 1970s, the plant physiologist Witham Fogg suggested that all plant physiology texts should be printed as disposable paperbacks, so that they could be thrown away once their contents were superseded by more recent findings. That advice could be applied to most books about the human genome, although unusually it doesn't apply to this one. Read the full review here


Andrew Niccol, Director (1997) Columbia Tristar Home video.
DVD Video (English and German soudtrack with subtitles in English, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Icelandic, Hindi, Hebrew, German, Turkish, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, Greek and Norwegian)
Regions: 2. Running time: 102 minutes.

GATTACA is set in a future where there are two classes of people: 'Valids', whose parents have selected their genetic attributes before birth, and the lower-status 'In-valids' who are the result of natural conception. Even more despised are those with 'borrowed ladders' - individuals who masquerade as others by buying samples of their DNA. Read the full review here


The Schollar Test

Alternative micropipettes

John Schollar tests equipment for school biology... sometimes to destruction. In this issue, John tests inexpensive alternatives to conventional micropipettes.
The products under test are:

  • Poulten and Graf 'Mini pipet'
  • LTI 'Graduate' pipette
  • NCBE 'Microsyringe'
  • Tricontinent 'Minipet'
  • Eppendorf 'pen' dispenser
  • Drummond 'Wiretrol II'
  • Syringe with calibrated tip (DIY)
  • Alpha 1 mL 'Pastette'


Most secondary schools would find the price of micropipettes for whole class use prohibitive. Typically a variable-volume device will cost GBP 125, and a fixed volume micropipette at least GBP 50.

Devices capable of measuring microlitre volumes are though, an essential requirement if one is to carry out practical molecular biology. Consequently, much ingenuity has been directed over the last 15 years into finding inexpensive alternatives for school use. Early efforts included devices such a conventional syringe with a wire placed down the needle (1). This was in effect a home-made version of the displacement capillary pipettes that preceeded the micropipette. Others used existing materials in a new way by, for example, fitting a calibrated micropipette tip onto a syringe (2), or by using disposable inoculation loops that held known volumes of liquid (3).

Approaches such as these are still useful and depending upon the circumstances, can be highly efective. Increasingly, however, commercial manufacturers have started to produce inexpensive pipetting devices. Some are intended as single- or limited-use items for diagnostic kits and have found their way into schools; others have been developed specifically for the education market.

There is a tendancy to regard these devices as second-best; the school teachers' poor alternative to 'real' equipment. This is a narrow perspective however (unless one is merely in the business of training people how to use apparatus). In the school laboratory, accuracy may be less important than durability and ease-of-use. Many a science centre has seen costly micropipettes reduced to broken plastic after a few months, or realised that the disappointing results with expensive reagents are caused by pipettes that are too difficult and unfamiliar for most visitors to handle. The motivation that students gain by handling 'the real thing' can quickly evaporate when the results don't match up.

Selecting a microlitre measuring device for school use is therefore not a straightforward task. Accuracy, durability, ease-of-use and the cost of consumable items (such as tips) must all be considered carefully.

This survey of 8 devices covers a broad range from the home-made to the repurposed and the purpose-built.


1. Schollar, J. (1990) Pump up the volume NCBE Newsletter (10) 14.
2. Miller, M.B. (1993) DNA technology in schools. A straightforward approach. BIO/technology Education 4 (1) 15-22.
3. See, for example, bacterial transformation kits, such as Bio-Rad's 'Explorer' series that use disposable inoculation loops for dispensing plasmid DNA.


Image lab

The Twiglet genome

John says:

"I first started collecting Twiglets like this over four years ago. About one packet in every 20 has a pair of fused Twiglets that look just like a metaphase chromosome. You have to eat a lot of Twiglets to collect the entire genome.

The most difficult part was finding the range of sizes. But I can assure you that there has been no foul play here - these Twiglets are exactly as I found them - I wasn't tempted to nibble the ends off them, you know. The best thing of course was beating The Wellcome Trust to the genome, not to mention Celera Genomics. And my Genome Project cost a fraction of the vast sums they spent on theirs." John Schollar, NCBE

Editor's note: Twiglets are small savoury biscuits, usually flavoured with yeast extract, that can be bought in the UK.