Sep 21 2020

Dr Christopher Wilkinson, Department of Biological Sciences, has recently filmed a video shown in last week's newsletter, explaining how coronavirus (Covid-19) spreads, and why we have certain safety measures in place in order to prevent it. We recently caught up with Dr Wilkinson to ask more about how effective these measures are. 

1. Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your role within the Department of Biological Sciences?

As well as being Biological Safety Officer I am also a Lecturer in Biomedical Sciences. I teach first year biochemistry and final year cancer biology. I cycle in 2-3 times a week – a round trip of 55 miles from my home in North London. You might spot me coming into Campus wearing some very bright Lycra.

2. You recently filmed a video discussing the ways coronavirus (Covid-19) can spread. With this in mind, what does your role as Biological Safety Officer for the College entail?

There are specific laws and regulations about how biological research is conducted: hazardous organisms, such as bacteria that can cause disease; genetic modification of micro-organisms and plants; use of human tissue. My role is to ensure we comply with those rules and help keep staff and students safe while they also conduct interesting and valuable research.

3. How did it feel to be back on campus?

Before filming, March was the last time I was on Campus. I’m a research scientist and while I supervise more than I experiment, not being in the lab has been quite restrictive. With Founders looking stunning in the late summer sun, I was feeling quite inspired on my return. I’m glad to be back to the bench. I’m looking forward to seeing students in the lecture theatres and laboratories 

4. You also research cilia – what are they?

Many people will have heard of cilia as the little hairs that line the airways and sweep up any dust and dirt we breathe in (it’s a little disgusting as we then swallow that muck but the stomach is full of strong acid). Other types of cilia, which don’t move, are found all over the body, only a few tissues don’t have them. They act like signalling masts. They house the cell equivalents of antennae that pick up signals from nearby cells or from other parts of the body. Together with a graduate student of mine and a collaborator at Cambridge University, I have just had a journal article accepted by Biology Open describing how cilia might be affected in Parkinson’s disease. I am also working on how related structures called centrosomes are affected in melanoma, with collaborators at St George’s University of London. Our first paper on this topic is in the September issue of the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

5. What do you enjoy most about working at Royal Holloway and within the Department of Biological Sciences?

I am paid to play around in a lab and find out how nature works; half of the year I have the chance to share this with undergraduate students, a captive audience who have to listen to my thoughts and opinions! It’s a great job. I have a set of colleagues who are kind and helpful and fun to work with. I can class them as friends, not just people I have to work with. On top of that, it’s a beautiful campus with an iconic building at its heart.

6. Outside of work, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I have three young sons between the ages of 3 and 9 (they are not a captive audience and don’t listen to me much). If we are not at aircraft museums or steam heritage railways, we are on a rugby pitch or tennis court. There’s a lot of energy in our household and most weekends we just about manage to prevent it from going critical and keep the chaos contained.