Genetics expert announced as Genetics Society Guest Lecturer in the 2018 CHRISTMAS LECTURES


The Royal Institution (Ri) has announced today that a second scientist will join Prof Alice Roberts in delivering the 2018 CHRISTMAS LECTURES. It is the first time a special Guest Lecturer has been appointed in the Christmas Lectures’ 194-year history.

Aoife McLysaght, Professor in Genetics at The Smurfit Institute of Genetics at Trinity College Dublin, will feature heavily in each of the three Lectures as the Genetics Society Guest Lecturer. Prof McLysaght will add her expertise in the field of genetics to Prof Roberts’s expertise in biological anthropology.

The 2018 CHRISTMAS LECTURES will use biology as a powerful way of answering the most fundamental of questions: Who am I?

Prof Gail Cardew, Director of Science and education at the Ri, said: “This year we wanted to pick a topic that felt accessible and relevant to everyone's lives, and at the same time is tricky and complicated.

“'Who am I?' is a question that might simply be answered by giving your name and date of birth, but scratch a little deeper and you unravel the full complexity of what it means to be human and to be different from your friends and family.

“I’m delighted to see two outstanding female scientists coming together to unravel many secrets at the biological level, and spark a conversation about what identity means in today's world.”

Aoife McLysaght, Professor in Genetics at The Smurfit Institute of Genetics at Trinity College Dublin, said: “The CHRISTMAS LECTURES are a special opportunity to make serious science fun and accessible to a wide audience. I am honoured and excited to join Alice, using my research in the field of molecular evolution, to help in bringing our evolutionary story to life.”

The 2018 CHRISTMAS LECTURES will be filmed in the Royal Institution’s iconic theatre on 11, 13 and 15 December 2018. The 2018 CHRISTMAS LECTURES are produced by Windfall Films for BBC Four. The Commissioning Editor for the BBC is Tom Coveney. Series Producer is Laura Voak and Executive Producer is David Dugan.

The Royal Institution receives support for the CHRISTMAS LECTURES, in 2018 from major supporter The Lloyd’s Register Foundation, and from the Genetics Society, Schlumberger and UK Research and Innovation. 

The Lectures will be broadcast on BBC Four in between Christmas and New Year.


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Royal Institution


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You share 99.4% of your genes with your neighbour, 98.7% with a chimp, and even 44% with a fruit fly – yet you are also entirely unique – there is nobody else quite like you.

In this year’s Christmas Lectures, Prof Alice Roberts will be joined by Prof Aoife McLysaght, to take us on a journey to answer this most fundamental question: Who Am I?  From how our limbs evolved from fins, to the colour of our eyes, Alice and Aoife investigate our fascinating evolutionary story to reveal how we became who we are today.

We humans tend to view ourselves as separate from the natural world, a special creation even, but we’re far more closely related to the rest of the animal kingdom than you might imagine. We begin by meeting our common animal ancestors, revealing the surprising similarities in our anatomy, development and DNA; and how we’re more closely related to a bat – and even a fruit fly – than you might think.  We uncover our place as a humble twig on the vast tree of life.

We’ll track the emergence of modern humans and ask what sets us apart from the other, now extinct, hominin species. We’ll find out how our human ancestors spread across the globe and diversified to create the extraordinary diversity we see today. We’ll ask what makes you different from your neighbour – and how those differences emerge through an interplay between genes and environment. And we’ll look at the latest developments in genetics which lead us to a deeper understanding of human biology, as well as underpinning advances in medicine.

In all the 2018 CHRISTMAS LECTURES from the Royal Institution will bring our evolutionary story to life, taking viewers on an immersive voyage through our shared evolutionary past and asking challenging ethical questions about what the future holds.  

This is the story of us – in all its deep-rooted, diverse, and surprising glory.   

Lecture breakdown

Lecture 1: Where do I come from?

An exploration of our animal family, meeting our distant cousins – from fish to fruit flies – unearthing clues to our evolutionary past and revealing surprising similarities as we discover our true place in the tree of life. 

Lecture 2: What makes me Human?

The story of our recent evolution from early two-legged hominins to modern humans – revealing how a humble African ape became a successful global species. Alice and Aoife will uncover the story of our journey out of Africa as we spread across the globe.

Lecture 3: What makes me, me?

An understanding of how the interplay between genetic variation and the environment makes us all different – even identical twins. We’ll interrogate emerging genetic technologies – from fixing gene errors to personalised medicine – and ask how far we should go with genetic testing. 

About Prof Aoife McLysaght

Professor Aoife McLysaght is Head of the Genetics Department at Trinity College Dublin, where she has led a research group focussing on Molecular Evolution since 2003. 

She was a member of the international consortium that published the first draft of the Human Genome sequence in 2001; was the first to discover novel human-specific genes, in 2009; identified links between gene duplication patterns and human disease; and has made significant contributions to our understanding of the human genome, as well as the genomes of other animals, plants and viruses.

Aoife takes a keen interest in communicating science to the public in an engaging and accessible manner.  She has given many talks at public events, including music festivals, The Royal Institution, and Brian Cox and Robin Ince’s Christmas Science shows. She is a frequent contributor to radio discussions including on BBC Radio 4, appeared on live TV, contributed to TV science documentaries, and has been a regular columnist for the Irish Times science page.

In 2016 Aoife gave the prestigious JBS Haldane Lecture of the Genetics Society, at the Royal Institution.

About the Royal Institution’s 2018 CHRISTMAS LECTURES supporters

The Royal Institution would like to extend its sincere gratitude to The Lloyd’s Register Foundation for their generous contribution as the CHRISTMAS LECTURES major supporter, and to our other CHRISTMAS LECTURES supporters, The Genetics Society, Schlumberger and UK Research and Innovation. To find out how you can join our community of CHRISTMAS LECTURES supporters, please contact

About the history of the CHRISTMAS LECTURES

The CHRISTMAS LECTURES are the Royal Institution’s biggest and most famous, 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 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 and Dame Nancy Rothwell.

The CHRISTMAS LECTURES were first broadcast on television by the BBC in 1936 which makes them the world’s oldest science TV series. They have been broadcast on television every year since 1966 on the BBC and in later years on Channel Five, Channel Four and more4. In 2010, the Lectures returned to BBC Four.

In 2016 a commemorative CHRISTMAS LECTURE book, ‘13 Journeys through Space and Time’ was published for the first time.  A second book in the series, ‘11 Explorations into Life on Earth’, with a foreword by Sir David Attenborough, was published in November 2017.

About the Royal Institution

The Royal Institution’s (Ri) vision is for a world where everyone is inspired to think more deeply about science and its place in our lives. Home to eminent scientists such as Michael Faraday, Humphry Davy and Kathleen Lonsdale, its discoveries have helped to shape the modern world. Just as importantly these scientists recognised the importance of sharing their work with the wider public.

Today it continues its mission to build on its heritage and create opportunities for everyone to discover, discuss and critically examine science and how it shapes the world around us. An independent registered charity, the Ri provides science education, public engagement, and heritage activities for people of all ages and backgrounds across the UK and around the world. These activities include the world-famous CHRISTMAS LECTURES; public talks from the world's greatest thinkers in its historic lecture theatre; a national programme of Ri Masterclasses for young people in mathematics, engineering and computer science; hands-on science workshops in its L'Oréal Young Scientist Centre; award winning animations and films; and the preservation of its scientific legacy through the Faraday Museum and archival collections.

About Windfall Films

Windfall Films has an international reputation as a producer of innovative factual television.   Recent productions include The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway, about the construction of Crossrail for BBC 2; Hidden Britain by Drone with Tony Robinson for Channel 4 and Saving Planet Earth: Fixing A Hole, the story of the hole in the ozone layer for Channel 4.

Windfall is one of the leading producers of science and technology programmes in the UK and is part of Argonon Group. The company has collected numerous awards for its programming, including BAFTAs for Inside Nature’s Giants, D-Day: As It Happens and Murder Trial, an Emmy and National Academy of Sciences Award for Your Inner Fish and a Wildscreen Panda Award for The Bat Man of Mexico.

Past programmes include: The British Garden: Life and Death on Your Lawn with Chris Packham, Spider House with Alice Roberts, Inside Einstein’s Mind and Inside Chernobyl’s Mega Tomb for BBC Four;  Easter Eggs LiveFoxes Live: Wild in the CityInside Nature's Giants  for Channel 4;and The Secret Life of Owls for Channel 5; Unearthed, Rise of the Machines, and How Things Work for the Science Channel; and Eclipse: Secrets of the Sun for PBS NOVA.