2013 Darwin Day lecture: The emergence of drug resistance – Molecular evolution and new medicines for cancer and tuberculosis
February 19th, 2013
Introducing himself as a fervent anti-creationist, chemist and Distinguished Support of the BHA, Sir Tom Blundell, Professor Emeritus and Director of Research, Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge presented the 2013 Darwin Day lecture to a packed audience last week.
The lecture, titled The emergence of drug resistance: molecular evolution and new medicines for the treatment of cancer and tuberculosis, explored the study of the process of evolution at the molecular level, described by Sir Tom as ‘a very fast kind of evolution that we can study with modern technologies’.
Introducing the lecture, the Chair of Annual Darwin Day lecture, which celebrates the birthday of Charles Darwin (recently described as ‘the man who had history’s best idea’), Professor Richard Dawkins, described all of modern biology as a ‘footnote on Darwin’.
The lecture focused on the discoveries of the past fifty years, extending our knowledge of the evolution of proteins in living cells which have been mapped in terms of molecular architecture and amino acid sequence.
Sir Tom explored how we are learning that many accepted mutations are selectively neutral but others appear to be selectively advantageous to the organism by optimising stability, activity, and interactions at the molecular and cellular levels. Topics he covered included how, more recently, second generation methods of gene sequencing are allowing us to follow the evolution and emergence of resistance, as tumours escape the restraints of tissue function, and as pathogens such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis and HIV evade the immune response of the host.
He highlighted that understanding this is essential to the design of new medicines, and he used his work in a laboratory funded by the Wellcome Trust on cancer and by the Gates Foundation on tuberculosis to illustrate this.
A true renaissance man, Sir Tom interwove details from his personal life throughout the lecture –playing trumpet in jazz bands, being a political activist, and his marriage and experience of being a father, elucidating on the effect of this on his work and career.
About the British Humanist Association
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.