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Press information for the 2013 CHRISTMAS LECTURES

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2013 CHRISTMAS LECTURES® look to the animal kingdom to unlock the mysteries of human disease


Alison Woollard to investigate the Life Fantastic in the CHRISTMAS LECTURES, broadcast on BBC Four from 28-30 December

A menagerie of weird and wonderful creatures will be the focus of this year’s CHRISTMAS LECTURES, the annual science lectures presented by the Royal Institution. Alison Woollard, a lecturer in genetics at the University of Oxford, will use developmental biology to explore the secret of life and explain what we can learn about ourselves from creatures as diverse as microscopic worms, chihuahuas, the naked mole rat, chickens and lobsters.

The 2013 CHRISTMAS LECTURES, titled Life Fantastic, will be broadcast as part of the BBC’s Christmas schedule on BBC Four at 8pm on the 28, 29 and 30 December. In an action-packed demonstration-led lecture series, Alison will introduce the audience to a range of unusual creatures, and highlight their unique genetic properties to ask if the secret to longer life might be swimming in the sea or hiding underground.

The phenomenal contribution of these animals to our understanding of human life and disease will help Alison to answer the key questions posed by the three action-packed lectures, ‘Where do I come from?', 'Am I a mutant?' and 'Could I live forever?' Taking centre stage is the ‘Hero’ C. elegans worm, the first animal ever to have its genome sequenced, which Alison uses in her research to study the ageing process in humans and genetic links to cancer. In Life Fantastic the worms will help Alison to demonstrate how cells know which part of the organism they are destined to become.

Other animals taking the spotlight include the lobster which has gained mythical immortality due to its unique self-renewing cells, mussels to learn about the incredible properties of proteins, a great dane and a chihuahua to demonstrate the diversity that can be achieved by just a few changes in the DNA, a goose and a chicken to look at genetic switches and naked mole rats to investigate the secrets of long life.

Alison Woollard, the Christmas Lecturer, commented: “I am incredibly excited and proud to be presenting this year’s CHRISTMAS LECTURES. Through Life Fantastic, I want to get people thinking about how one tiny cell is the building block for an entire organism and to understand the incredible potential this concept holds for future medical discoveries that could completely change how we recognise, treat and prevent hundreds of different diseases. She added: "Everyone has an inner scientist; the world of science is not an exclusive club that most people can’t join, and everyone can feel the excitement of discovery when things are explained carefully enough."

The CHRISTMAS LECTURES are produced for BBC Four by Windfall Films in association with the Ri.

For press enquiries, please contact 
Hayley Burwell on
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Notes to editors

Our 2013 supporters
The 2013 ’Life Fantastic’ CHRISTMAS LECTURES are supported by the Wellcome Trust, Cell Therapy Catapult and BBSRC. 

The CHRISTMAS LECTURES are the Royal Institution's biggest and most famous events - demonstration-based science events for young people. They are broadcast on UK television every Christmas and have formed part of the festive tradition for generations - often being compared to the Queen's Christmas message and the carols from Kings. The CHRISTMAS LECTURES have been broadcast on television since 1966 and in 2012 the combined broadcast reached over 2.5 million viewers.

The CHRISTMAS LECTURES have been inspiring children and adults alike since 1825. The Lectures were initiated by Michael Faraday at a time when organised education for young people was scarce. He presented 19 series himself, establishing an exciting new way of presenting science to young people. The CHRISTMAS LECTURES have continued annually since the 1825 series, stopping only during World War II. Many world-famous scientists have given the Lectures including Nobel Prize winners William and Lawrence Bragg, Sir David Attenborough, Carl Sagan, Lord George Porter and Dame Nancy Rothwell.

The 2013 CHRISTMAS LECTURES are produced by Windfall Films for BBC Four.

To keep up with all the latest news, please follow #xmaslectures on Twitter.

CHRISTMAS LECTURES® is a registered trademark of the Royal Institution. 

How to watch

Life Fantastic will be broadcast on BBC Four at 8pm on 28th, 29th and 30th December 2013.

After appearing on BBC iPlayer, the full series will be available to watch for free on the Ri Channel in January 2014.