Penelope Mason



Harrogate Grammar School, University of Newcastle


BSc Hons (Molecular Biology), PhD (Mitochondrial DNA repair), BTA (been to America) ; )

Work History:

Previously worked in the USA at the National Institutes of Health, then at Oxford in the Biochemistry Dept.with Dr. Lynne Cox

Current Job:


Me and my work

Research into how we age and whether we can age better

There are some organisms that live for a very short time, and some that are essentially immortal. Why is this? Ageing is the result of the interaction of many complex systems and we still do not know many of the answers. Humans live a relatively long time, yet some can be born with diseases (such as progeria) that cause them to age much more quickly, and some humans live far longer than average. We can use both of these groups, and other organisms with unusual rates of ageing to correlate the genetic background with the type of ageing. If we know the reasons why some organisms live longer, and more importantly, stay more healthy in old age, we can use that information to help human live more healthy for longer.

My Typical Day

I work on human cells living in dishes, so I have to keep them happy and test their reactions to my experimental stimuli

I need to feed and clean my cells to keep them healthy, like you would with anything you are growing. The cells are kept in sterile growing chambers so they don’t get mould or bacteria, and like to live as they would in your body – at 37oC and in the dark, so are kept in a dark incubator. I then give the cells a drug or change their living conditions, and see if it makes them live for longer or whether they grow better and are more healthy. There are many ways to see this, from measuring their lifespans and what they look like, to mounting them on slides and colouring them for markers that show up only when they are e.g. stressed or growing well. I then record and chart this data to find evidence that a particular drug (or environmental condition) helps cells live longer better.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Interested, chatty, amused

What living thing amazes you the most?

Everything! Living things are amazingly complicated yet they work beautifully

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Last year I gave a talk about ageing as part of a play at secret garden party and wilderness

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Not really, I was a bit of a geek, so really just the odd uniform-malfunction detention…

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

A vet or Terry Pratchett

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Worked with people from all over the world as fascinated by everything as I am

Who or what inspired you to become a scientist?

I loved Biology and Crafts at school, so combined the two. I grew up on sci-fi. And I thought Nikola Tesla was fantastic.

What would your superpower be?

Flying. My semi-useless scientist superpower is knowing my timer will go off just before it does

If I could change one thing about the world...

I would make it so that money was never a limiting factor

My favourite CHRISTMAS LECTURE memory is:

Hayley’s heart ; )

The most Fantastic thing about Life is:

That it’s so utterly complicated and interdependent, but works so well

Other stuff

Show us where you work:

My bench is to the right of Hayley’s. You can see it on her profile, covered in her worm plates… ; )

This is where we feed the cells myimage2