The case for blue skies research is made passionately by Elizabeth Oliver-Jones in The New Optimists, and with due cause. Her particular research focuses around the study of early cell interactions in amphibians, about the little-known molecular mechanisms by which vertebrate embryos achieve the myriad complex patterns and cell types found in the adult animal.
Such work may seem a far cry from most of our lives, perhaps something even for the politician’s knife. But (and this is a big BUT), such seemingly esoteric research by Professor Oliver-Jones and other scientists on the Xenopus (a type of aquatic frog native to sub-Saharan Africa) has established gene expression and function in a number of human diseases such as colorectal cancer, and has also provided biochemical insight into important oncogenes. Indeed, her work on amphibians is important in understanding cell signalling, and in the relationships between genes and development in many other living organisms including ourselves.
Elizabeth Oliver-Jones is a Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Warwick. Her work is funded by the BBRSC and the Wellcome Trust, including £1.5M from the Wellcome Trust for a Xenopus Stock Centre, 2006-2011 with Dr Matt Guile at the University of Portsmouth.