Imperial College London

Science writing star wins prestigious Daily Telegraph essay competition

Daily Telegraph essay writing competition

Biochemistry graduate predicts the future of genome sequencing - <em>News</em>

Thursday 14 August 2008
By Naomi Weston

Biochemistry graduate Erika Cule has won the Daily Telegraph’s science writing competition for her fictional essay on the future of genome sequencing.

Fighting off stiff competition from over 300 entries, Erika won in the 20–28 category. The competition aims to find the future popularisers of science, engineering and technology.

Erika’s success follows on from winning Imperial’s Science Challenge 2008 in March with the same essay.

Entitled ‘It’s all in the genes’, the essay is set in the future and focuses on a 16 year old girl who receives her complete genome sequence for her birthday via email. “Birthday greetings, Elizabeth. Thank you for ordering your complete genome sequence, high-quality version, from 363.com. Our annotation service supplies a detailed genotype analysis.”

The girl is relieved to find out she has “no Huntington’s chorea, no Alzheimer’s, no severe immune defects. No nasty genetic surprises.”

Distracted by her new found knowledge, the girl steps out into the road and fails to notice the oncoming bus, highlighting Erika’s cynicism about the process. She explains: “I wouldn’t be scared about having my genome analysed but I am fairly cynical about it. For all the eventualities that you face in life, you could get hit by a bus tomorrow.”

We met Erika to find out more and ask her what her next steps are.

Were you surprised at winning the Daily Telegraph’s essay competition?

I was astonished to have won. My essay was different – the other entries took a more traditional path. I think my light-hearted approach made it more interesting and it obviously stood out for the judges.

Erika Cule

What was your inspiration behind writing the essay?

I wanted to write an essay which was accessible and I was really pleased when friends of mine, who never normally read anything scientific, said they had read it and enjoyed it.

Big influences on me include Craig Ventor’s biography and Nature Futures, the science-fiction writing forum.

What are you planning on doing next?

I am currently a member of Imperial College’s iGEM team, the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition, which attracts teams from around the world to spend the summer working in the field of synthetic biology to design a functional biological machine.

Our team is engineering the bacterium Bacillus subtilis into a biological printer that will synthesise three dimensional objects.

The Imperial team, together with more than 80 other teams, will travel to the final, hosted by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in November. Our work will be presented to the judging panel and we hope to win!

In October I will begin a PhD Programme in Bioinformatics and Theoretical Systems Biology at the Centre for Bioinformatics here at Imperial College.

After winning two essay competitions this year, are you considering a future career in science writing?

Winning the competition has sparked of an interest in science writing. However, I plan to work on my PhD first! After that, who knows?

To read the full essay please visit: www.science-writer.co.uk

To read the Daily Telegraph article please visit: www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml?xml=/earth/2008/07/29/sciawards129.xml