All that somehow arrives out of patterns of genes and signals. The girl is embracing a magnificently-plumed turkey - an appropriate metaphor for Tickle, whose days are spent manipulating the delicate collections of cells that make up early chick embryos in search of answers to fundamental biological questions like "how can a ball of cells end up as something that looks like a human being?""It's one of the most major biological problems you can tackle," she says.Tickle's speciality is investigating how simple cells with no particular function specialise to become the muscle, skin and bone cells needed for live and kicking limbs."We've got very precise arrangements of muscles, particular shapes of bones, numbers of joints, even just in a finger. "It's the age old principle of the magic bullet."There's still a long way to go: hundreds of different analogues of the compounds need to be generated and tested before the right one will be found. And there is also the task of trying to attract the attention of big pharmaceutical companies more attuned to drugs saleable in the rich West than those needed in the developing world.
But Ferguson is enthusiastic - and when he needs to recharge, he heads for those hills and does battle with the midges instead.CHERYLL TICKLE: OUT ON A LIMBWhy do our arms pop out just below our shoulders? How do our legs know to grow from the base of our trunks? How come there's a thumb on one edge of our hand and a pinkie on the other? Why indeed asks Professor Cheryll Tickle, a developmental biologist on the move to Dundee.On her office wall hangs a picture of a smiling girl wearing cowboy boots. One relates to African sleeping sickness; the other is found both in trypanosome and in the malaria parasite."Now, for the first time, we have isolated a molecule that will both inhibit the parasite enzyme without touching the same enzyme in humans," says Ferguson. They'd lose their surface molecules and without their surface molecules they are non- infectious," explains Ferguson. "You only need to hit one enzyme to prevent the assembly of the bolt."Earlier this year, the team succeeded in purifying and subtly modifying two of the first candidate enzymes for stripping their parasite naked. Current treatments are at best ineffective, at worst toxic, expensive and difficult to administer.It's against this background that Ferguson and his Dundee team, using the fundamental principles of cell biology and synthesis, have revealed chinks in the parasites' armour. It started with his discovery that although the parasites are very different, their surface molecules - which carry the infection - are anchored by a common biochemical "bolt" made up of enzymes."If we could make a drug that prevented the parasite from assembling this `bolt', all the organisms would essentially be naked. And if all his recruits fulfil their potential, he predicts, we'll be hearing much much more about science north of the border.MIKE FERGUSON: BOLT FROM THE BLUEThough Professor Mike Ferguson's office looks out on to the cool Grampians, his mind is in the tropics on African sleeping sickness, Chagas disease and leishmaniasis.
Most of the principal investigators have even brought their own salaries (in the form of fellowships), and collectively they have won grants totalling over pounds 18m.This will fund research across the four new divisions - molecular parasitology and biological chemistry, molecular cell biology, gene regulation and expression and developmental biology - reflecting the hottest areas of biomedical science."Our aim is to use fundamental science to understand the causes of diseases such as diabetes, inflammation, hereditary skin conditions, immune system defects and parasitical diseases," says Cohen. Ten to 20 million people in South and Central America are thought to be infected with Chagas disease, of whom 15 per cent will die; while epidemics of African sleeping sickness and leishmaniasis often follow conflict or disaster, killing tens of thousands. His team are as close as any in the world to producing treatments for these devastating diseases, all spread by a particularly nasty parasite family called trypanasomatids.Between them, these parasites cause a huge burden of illness and death. And Cohen's legendary persistence has extracted money from a variety of charities and sources such as the Scotch whisky Gannochy Trust, romantic novelist Dame Catherine Cookson, and Sean Connery, who has marked his love of Tayside golf by dividing the pounds 160,000 he received for a one minute walk- on in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves between four local charities, including the Wellcome Building.The common scientific complaint of lack of research funds appears to be non-existent in Dundee. What more could you want?"The Wellcome Trust Building is funded by a pounds 10m donation from the eponymous charity, and the gift, thought to be the largest single charitable donation ever given to a Scottish institution, has been swelled by Scottish Enterprise Tayside and Tayside regional council who have high hopes of a biotechnology influx to boost the local economy. In the scientific world Dundee has really moved up in recent years."Professor Jeff Williams, who's about to move his work on the primitive organism dichtyostelium, a valuable model for tissue development, from the Imperial Cancer Research Fund laboratories in Hertfordshire, sees both his science and his salary going further."It's the best of both worlds, you can buy more house for your money, live well on an academic salary, in a beautiful environment, and be involved in first class science. In the evening I can get out of the lab and drive along a stretch of water to somewhere quiet But there is also good science being done here.