Authentic Biology is a national initiative supported by the Wellcome Trust which aims to encourage sixth form students to take part in original research projects in their school with guidance from university research workers.

The programme is based on the success of the MBP2 project which was initiated at the Simon Langton Boys school nearly five years ago, again with Wellcome Trust support.  This project has seen students clone the human gene for Myelin Basic Protein, express the protein in yeast, purify the protein and identify post-translational modifications that may be important in the development and progression of Multiple Sclerosis.  They have been supported and guided in this work by staff from the Department of Biosciences at the University of Kent and there are currently 170 students taking part in the project at the Langton.

Authentic Biology has seen the project expand to include four more schools across the country.  Each school is working closely with their local university biosciences department to develop a project that has a particular resonance with the students and staff in each school.

St Pauls Way Trust School in Tower Hamlets London is working with Queen Mary University of London and they have chosen to investigate specific markers for the development of diabetes since over 80% of their students are of Bangladeshi origin and diabetes is a significant health issue amongst this population.

Tapton School in Sheffield are working with the University of Sheffield to examine genes that may play a role in heart disease.  They are using zebra fish as a model organism and hope to be able to identify physiological consequences of certain gene mutations.

Cotham School in Bristol are working with the University of Bristol.  They are also working with zebra fish as a model organism, but they will be looking at genes responsible for inflammation and cancer using GWAS studies.

Peter Symonds College in Winchester are working with the University of Southampton and they have taken a different approach.  They have introduced a range of experimental techniques to their students and encouraged them to select a technique and develop their own individual practical EPQ (Extended Project Qualification).  The projects have included visual perception studies and investigations into the effects of various substances (e.eg Prozac) on drosophila.

The aims of Authentic Biology are to encourage students to be involved in genuine novel research, experiencing the highs and lows of the research process; to give CPD opportunities to teaching and technical staff in schools; to encourage university staff to participate in an extended outreach project with opportunities for widening participation and recruiting undergraduate students; to encourage more students to follow STEM-based subjects at University and to promote the study of Biology in secondary schools.

The project also includes an annual Research Symposium where students present their work to one another as oral presentations and posters.  The inaugural Symposium was held at QMUL in December last year, there is a report of the event on the Wellcome Trust Blog Authentic-biology in schools