Skip to main content

Daniel Davis – Four Way Interview

Daniel M Davis, PhD, is The Director of Research in the Manchester Collaborative Centre for Inflammation Research – a research institute funded by the University of Manchester, AstraZeneca and GSK. Prior to this, he was a Professor of Molecular Immunology at Imperial College London, UK and Head of the Immunology and Infection Section at the South Kensington Campus. Professor Davis pioneered the use of novel imaging techniques to help visualize key molecular components of the immune response. His work helped establish new concept of how immune cells communicate with each other and how they recognize disease. Dr Davis’ book The Compatibility Gene – was published by Penguin in 2013 and is on the longlist for the 2014 Royal Society Winton Prize.
Why science?
I studied physics first because nothing beats the scale over which physics works – from the formation of stars to what goes on inside atoms. But after my PhD, I decided that it’s perhaps more interesting to think about how life works. So I went to Harvard for a few years to research the immune system. For me, all kinds of science are fascinating – but the added bonus of thinking about the immune system that it can seed new ideas for medicine.
Why this book?
There are genetic differences between people and misunderstanding human variation has led to some of the greatest tragedies in history. A big message of my book is that our greatest genetic differences – the genes that vary the most from person to person – are in our immune system. And it is essential that we have this diversity; this enormous variation is essential to how the human body fights disease. My book is also about individuality on a different level. It’s also a story showing how different scientists contribute – in different ways – to our understanding of nature.
What’s next?
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed discussing the immune system with the public. I especially enjoy festivals, like the Hay Festival which I’ve loved for years but this was the first time I got to speak there, and my family’s really looking forward to Latitude in a couple of weeks. So I want to keep talking about The Compatibility Gene a while longer before I commit to another book project but undoubtedly, there are many fascinating stories in immunology that I think deserve more attention.
What’s exciting you at the moment?
My own research is in imaging the way in which immune cells detect signs of disease. My lab team uses new kinds of light microscopes that can detect individual protein molecules in cells. It’s wonderful as we can now study how immune cells work on a nano-metre scale. With this, we can answer specific long-standing questions – like how do immune cells kill cancer cells – but also, just by watching, we can discover entirely new unexpected phenomena about the behaviour of immune cells.


Popular posts from this blog

The Feed (SF) - Nick Clark Windo ****

Ever since The War of the Worlds, the post-apocalyptic disaster novel has been a firm fixture in the Science Fiction universe. What's more, such books are often among the few SF titles that are shown any interest by the literati, probably because many future disaster novels feature very little science. With a few exceptions, though (I'm thinking, for instance, The Chrysalids) they can make for pretty miserable reading unless you enjoy a diet of page after page of literary agonising.

The Feed is a real mixture. Large chunks of it are exactly that - page after page of self-examining misery with an occasional bit of action thrown in. But, there are parts where the writing really comes alive and shows its quality. This happens when we get the references back to pre-disaster, when we discover the Feed, which takes The Circle's premise to a whole new level with a mega-connected society where all human interaction is through directly-wired connections… until the whole thing fails …

Everything You Know About Space Is Wrong - Matt Brown ****

What we have here is a feast of assertions some people make about space that are satisfyingly incorrect, with pithy, entertaining explanations of what the true picture is. Matt Brown admits in his introduction that a lot of these incorrect facts are nitpicking - more on that in a moment - but it doesn't stop them being delightful. I particularly enjoyed the ones about animals in space and about the Moon.

Along the way, we take in space exploration, the Earth's place in space, the Moon, the solar system, the universe and a collection of random oddities, such as the fact that Mozart didn't write Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Sometimes the wrongness comes from a frequent misunderstanding. So, for example, Brown corrects the idea that Copernicus was the first to say that the Earth moves around the Sun. Sometimes there's some very careful wording. This is used when Brown challenges the idea that the Russian dog Laika was the first animal in space. What we discover is that, i…

Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs - Lisa Randall ****

I did my PhD in galactic dynamics - which is an awkward subject when people want to know what its relevance to the 'real world' is. So I was excited when Clube and Napier's book The Cosmic Serpent came out, around the same time, because it provided me with a ready-made answer. It argued that the comets which occasionally crash into Earth with disastrous results - such as the extinction of the dinosaurs - are perturbed from their normal orbits by interactions with the large-scale structure of the galaxy.

I was reminded of this idea a few years ago when there was a flurry of media interest in Lisa Randall's "dark matter and the dinosaurs" conjecture. I was sufficiently enthusiastic about it to write an article on the subject for Fortean Times - though my enthusiasm didn't quite extend to purchasing her hardback book at the time. However, now that it's out in paperback I've remedied the situation - and I'm glad I did.

Dark matter is believed to exi…