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Podcast Review: 'Genetics Unzipped' by the Genetics Society

21 January 2019
Appeared in BioNews 983

As a hardened podcast obsessive working in the field of genetics, I was excited to listen to the Genetics Society podcast 'Genetics Unzipped'.

The now fortnightly series was launched in December, and is presented by Dr Kat Arney, the former presenter of the Nature Genetics podcast (and an award-winning science writer). The podcast, which will run 100 episodes throughout 2019, is part of the Genetics Society's special centenary celebrations.

The first episode gave listeners a sneak peak of the 2018 Royal Institution Lectures featuring Professor Alice Roberts, Professor Aoife McLysaght and enthusiastic pyrotechnic-obsessed demonstration expert, Fran Scott. The theme of the episode matching that of the theme of the lectures, to find the answer to the question 'Who am I?' The podcast definitely vamps up interest in the lectures by giving us a more personal introduction with the two leading professors.

I enjoyed the way Dr Arney led the interviews. I found she had the right amount of eagerness and was well-informed, without trying to showboat her own knowledge or being overbearing as an interviewer, as is sometimes evident in other scientific podcasts I've listened to. She asked the right questions and let the interviewee get their point across effortlessly. It gave this episode a really relaxed and welcoming feel, making for a nice, easy listen.

The podcast is neatly divided into segments, broken up by entertaining theme music, which protected me from my inherent habit of zoning out when listening to stand-alone episode podcasts.

The show picked apart the rationale behind the theme, 'Who Am I?', giving us an insight into Professor Roberts' process when coming up with the lectures. She goes on to give a really insightful explanation of her interest in human origins and a fascinating introduction to what she explored in the lectures, including genetics comparisons between individuals and different living things.

The behind-the-scenes talk with both Professor Roberts and Professor McLysaght was really heartening to hear, both women sounded truly excited at the scope of resources being made available at their disposal for the demonstrations. It's hard not to be uplifted when you hear someone talk so excitedly about their work.

The interview with Royal Institution demonstration expert, Scott, was also a delightful addition to the podcast, bringing the perspective of someone involved purely in the entertainment value of the lectures, with less of a specialist interest in the genetics element. Scott's excitement about the lectures quenched my fear that the lectures may have been a touch too on the academic side and reassured me that it was actually going to be fun to watch.

Even though it is well in to January, the podcast episode had me completely sold on watching the Christmas lectures and I immediately set-out to find them on BBC iPlayer once I had finished it. Episode one can be found here.

The final segment of the episode delves into what is yet to come with the Genetic Society's centenary celebrations by interviewing the centenary project manager, Christina Fonseca. This segment opened me up to a range of relevant and interesting events and activities that I am already looking in to, allowing me to explore more of the world of genetics outreach. Future topics go in to the world of evolutionary genetics and genetic variants and disease.

The podcast as a whole has definitely given me a fresh wave of enthusiasm to get more involved in scientific outreach and this part provided the organisations I could get in touch with to do just that.

The show has a tone that would be easy for the layperson to follow, but this doesn't mean that seasoned geneticists shouldn't listen, as there's something for everyone. For me it was nice to be brought out of my specific interest bubble and come back to basic genetic concepts with a bit of light-heartedness and genuine enthusiasm.

I really enjoyed listening to this podcast and I will continue to tap in to the series as it develops. Seeing as the episodes are relatively short (under 30 minutes) I see no reason why anyone interested in the field wouldn't want to give this satisfyingly pleasant podcast a go.

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