Dr. Natalie Danford
I decided to be a biologist at the age of 8 when I started Nature Study at school, and homed in on genetics at about 15, thanks to an inspirational teacher at my school. A degree in genetics and microbiology at Sheffield was followed by a PhD in population genetics at the University of Swansea. At this stage I worked with the iconic species Drosophila melanogaster (or fruit fly) which in those days we kept in the perfect culture vessels, ⅓ pint milk bottles. The main focus of my research was on a gene which produced different forms of an enzyme and whether these variants resulted in survival differences under a range of environmental conditions (they did).
Later I moved to the Human Genetics department at the University of Edinburgh to work on enzyme induction in humans caused by smoking and, moving ever nearer to studying the effects of exposure to environmental chemicals, I returned to Swansea, first working on pollution in marine organisms including mussels, and then into the development of systems to detect genetic toxicology. It was exciting to be involved in a new and fast-moving subject at this time (mid to late 1970s) with new tests regularly appearing in our attempts to find the ones which gave the most accurate prediction of carcinogenicity, with as few false positives or negatives as possible. My specialty has been analyzing chromosomes ever since.
After 10 years in research, I started running training courses and operating the slide-scoring group, which gradually grew into the team we have today.
Trade missions, stands at conferences, as well as the group courses I ran meant I travelled extensively, including to Canada and the US, Japan and numerous European countries. I've also been on some more unusual trips (nothing to do with genetics), an annual visit to the North West region of Cameroon since 2012, two expeditions to Greenland in 2007 and 2010 and a trek in Libya in 2009.
In the mid-1990s, I looked to extend my repertoire, and took a Masters Degree in Public Health at Cardiff Medical School. Although my main modules were in epidemiology, I particularly enjoyed the ones on safe maternity and childcare which were mainly directed at conditions in developing countries.
Although never working professionally in Public Health, it was useful when I took part in a workshop on industrial chemicals at the International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2000 and even more so when I started going to Cameroon. My early trips there included lecturing on public health to medical students at the University of Bamenda. More recently I've been involved in a horticultural project there, where other parts of the public health course, including nutrition and diet, have come into play.
One final experience to add. Award ceremonies – what can I say? The glitz! The dresses! The hype! I've made finals twice, once for Swansea Bay Woman of the Year (export category) and the other, Welsh Woman of the Year (Women into Science category). Women's awards, probably more than most, go to someone thought to inspire women to think "I could do that". Almost no one is going to look at a genetic toxicologist and imagine doing the same. Which is probably why, running my courses in or with participants from more than a dozen countries, I missed out on Swansea Bay Woman of the Year (export category) to someone who exported pies to Spain but she was the inspirational role model I could never be. And they were great experiences, and knowing I was very unlikely to win, I could just enjoy them (and not worry about the acceptance speech I hadn't prepared).
Although I've barely touched on it, life outside work is very full and rewarding too, and I do all this with the help and support of my wonderful family. Thank you!