17th July 2017 – Egle Marija Ramanauskaite, Technarium hackerspace & Human Computation Institute

Egle Marija RamanauskaiteEgle Marija Ramanauskaite (@seplute) received her Master’s in Molecular & Cellular Biology in 2011 and carried out professional research focusing on microbial evolution and antibiotic resistance of nosocomial bacterial. However, she soon left traditional academia to pursue more open modes of science. She has become involved with citizen science & DIY science in 2014, and has pursued the movements as a researcher and a participant ever since. In 2016 Egle defended a second Master’s degree in Education Science based on informal science & technology learning in hackerspaces. Egle currently runs a biohacking lab at Technarium hackerspace, Lithuania, where anyone can engage in molecular biology with DIY tools & equipment. One of the main projects in the lab is “Lichen Biohacking” looking for new natural products in the vast biodiversity of lichens in Lithuania.

Egle is also the Citizen Science Coordinator for the EyesOnALZ project at the Human Computation Institute (US), which is the first citizen science endeavor to accelerate Alzheimer’s disease treatment research. Stall Catchers – an online game developed as part of the EyesOnALZ project, allows anyone to analyze real Alzheimer’s research data, speeding up the process by orders of magnitude and enabling researchers at Cornell University to answer key questions about the role of reduced blood flow in the brain in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

On top of these roles, Egle is an eager science communicator and has written extensively on the topics of molecular biology, biomedical science, citizen science and the maker/hacker culture in English and Lithuanian, and is creating her own citizen science rubric for a grassroots Lithuanian science popularization show – “Mokslo sriuba” (“Science Soup”).

10th July 2017 – Robyn Womack, University of Glasgow

Robyn WomackHi BioTweeps! My name is Robyn and I am a twenty-something pint-sized zoology fanatic from the Isle of Wight, UK.

Currently, I am in my second year as a PhD student at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, investigating biological rhythms of wild birds (or otherwise, how birds “tick”). I spend a good portion of my time during the spring field season out in the wild forests near Loch Lomond working within a nest box system, and the other half in the lab doing genetic analyses. My research questions span a wide range of topics, from disease ecology and avian health to urban ecology and chronobiology (clock biology) – with the overarching theme of environmental factors influencing clocks in the wild.

Although my research focus is on birds, I have a broad interest in all things zoology. Back in 2014, I finished my BSc Zoology at Aberystwyth University in Wales, and since then I have experienced a variety of zoological roles such as research field assistant positions, zoo-keeping and volunteering in conservation. I’ve also experienced some non-zoological roles, such as working in cell culture and being part of an Athena SWAN self-assessment team promoting women in STEM subjects – something I feel passionate about!

I am super excited to be taking on BioTweeps this month as I am a strong believer that science, particularly biology, is awesome. And as biologists, we definitely ought to shout about it some more.

You can find more about me on my personal website http://www.robynwomack.com , or over on Twitter @robynjwomack .

3rd July 2017 – Lauren Diepenbrock, North Carolina State University, Entomological Society of America

Lauren DiepenbrockI am an insect ecologist working in integrated pest management as a postdoctoral research scholar at North Carolina State University. This basically means that I study the ecology of insect pests and incorporate that into management programs to help growers produce healthy crops. At NC State, I study a challenging invasive vinegar fly, spotted wing drosophila (Drosophila suzukii), a nearly worldwide pest that impacts small fruit crops (cherry, blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, strawberry, etc.). I also manage a multi-institutional Specialty Crops Research Initiative grant working with researchers all over the United States on coordinated research addressing the management of spotted wing drosophila.

Prior to my postdoc position, I did a Master’s at Florida State University where I studied the seasonal natural history of trap-jaw ants (Odontomachus brunneus) in North Florida with Dr. Walter Tschinkel. I consider myself very fortunate for this opportunity to observe these organisms and learn about their unique behaviors. The observational skills that I learned during this work have been helpful both in my PhD and postdoctoral research.

I did my doctoral research with Dr. Deborah Finke at the University of Missouri. For my dissertation, I looked at the impacts of resources, historical land use, and invasive species on native lady beetle communities in tallgrass habitats in Missouri. Tallgrass prairie was once the predominant land cover for much of this region and has, over time, been converted to agricultural land. I wanted to understand how changes in land use and the restoration of some lands to tallgrass prairie impacted insect communities, and I chose to focus on lady beetles because of recent studies documenting negative impacts of invasive lady beetles (e.g. Harmonia axyridis, Coccinella septempunctata) on native species. One of our major findings is that grasslands (native or agricultural) are really important for promoting the persistence of native lady beetles.

During my week on BioTweeps, I’ll talk about natural history, insect ecology, beneficial and pest insects, integrated pest management, and ongoing research.  There will likely be random cat pictures, discussion of experiences from grad school and beyond, how to make the most out of interesting opportunities along the way, the hunt for a faculty position… and anything else that is of interest at the time. I’m happy to answer whatever insect questions that I can and refer those that I cannot answer to people who can.

19th July 2017 – Goutham Radha, Howard University

Goutham RadhaEver considered why you choose the field that you chose? The very first time I saw rectus abdominis contracting in frog’s ringers attached to lever and a smoked Sherrington drum, I was awestruck. That is when I realized why I chose scientific research as my career. I worked on several research projects in Pharmacology during my Bachelors. It is during that time that I learned what it takes to do research.

After my Bachelors in Pharmacy, I worked towards a Masters in Cell and Molecular Biology. I worked in a lab working on Neurological Effects of HIV-1. Though a lot is established about what HIV-1 does in the peripheral body, we do not have much information about what it does in the brain. The virus can cross the Blood Brain Barrier (BBB) and infect astrocytes, replicate and cause a latent infection. What worsens the condition, is that the Antireterovirals, do not cross the BBB, and hence the virus in brain is not affected. I used several methods in the lab to ascertain the effects of some of the viral proteins in astrocytes.

Currently, I’m working in a research lab at Howard University, in Washington, DC. The lab’s focus is to understand the pathology of Breast cancer. Aside from my research, I’m a Photographer and I love it. I have an almost active Instagram account and a website (which is still in progress, typical researcher, right?). Recently, I started playing Ultimate Frisbee and I absolutely love it. I try to stay active, run, workout, and Science!

12th June 2017 – Angela Watkins, Welsh Government

Angela WatkinsHi Biotweeps!

I’m currently a civil servant with the Welsh Government, working as Biodiversity Policy Officer in our Land, Nature and Forestry team. I’ve been a civil servant for the last nearly 3 years after having completed my PhD at the University of Southampton in 2014. My role mainly involves developing and delivering biodiversity and nature policy and evidence across Wales and supporting others to do the same.  I’ll hopefully be able to share a bit of insight into what this means during my week ‘(wo)manning’ the Biotweeps account.

A bit of background about me: My PhD was in the field of computational ecology, but I actually completed an integrated PhD as part of the Institute of Complex Systems Simulation, so I don’t have an easy answer when people ask me what my PhD is in! Normally depending on the questioner I’ll either say ecology, or complexity and ecology. In a nutshell, my research involved using complex systems theory to develop a model(s) that could test questions about the relationship between landscape ecology (i.e. connectivity) and species persistence and movement in that landscape. To make this sound cooler, I essentially studied the way that jaguars moved around a fragmented habitat in central Belize. I’ll explain a bit more about this too if you are interested!

My main research interests lie in landscape ecology and resilience, (but will broaden to agent-based modelling, conservation, population ecology) but I am keen to link this with real, direct, on the ground policy decisions and implementation. How can we use our theoretical knowledge to deliver real change in terms of conserving and enhancing our biodiversity?

I’m also a wife and mother of two young girls aged (almost) 5 and 15 months, a passionate feminist and promoter of #womeninscience, naturally. Normally I can be found on twitter @ecologywatkins.

5th June 2017 – Michelle Rodrigues, University of Illinois

Michelle RodriguesHi Biotweeps!

I am a primatologist/biological anthropologist interested in social relationships and how they help us deal with life’s stressors. My research centers around the tend-and-befriend hypothesis, which proposes that female friendship evolved as a primate-wide strategy to cope with stressors.  Additionally, some of my past and current research addresses the development of social relationship during juvenility and adolescence, and how it helps prepare for adult challenges.

Most of my graduate research was conducted at El Zota Biological Field Station, Costa Rica, with a little help from the spider monkeys at Brookfield Zoo, IL.  I did my Master’s at Iowa State University, where I studied the emergence of sex-segregated social patterns in juvenile spider monkeys. I completed my PhD at Ohio State University, focusing on female social relationships and stress in adult female spider monkeys to test the tend-and-befriend hypothesis.

My fieldwork experience includes research on howler monkeys in Nicaragua and Costa Rica, free-ranging rhesus monkeys at Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico, and gorillas and chimpanzees in Cameroon. I’ve also studied captive chimpanzees at the North Carolina Zoo, bonobos at the Columbus Zoo, and spider monkeys, big cats, and pachyderms at Brookfield Zoo.

Currently, I am studying a new focal species, humans! After stints as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Wake Forest University and online teaching with Eastern Kentucky University, I began a postdoc in the Laboratory of Evolutionary Endocrinology at the University of Illinois. With Kate Clancy, I am working on projects examining female friendship, stress, and depression in teenage girls, and how female friendship and social networks mediate workplaces stressors in female scientists of color. Along with my postdoc, I am also completing a certificate in Science Communication.

I’m also very interested in interspecies friendship, and my best friends are my cat and dog! I also met some of my best human friends through running. Last year I ran a half marathon and 25k, and this year I am attempting to train for the Chicago Marathon (although my injuries may have other plans). You can find me on twitter @MARspidermonkey, and read my blog posts at spidermonkeytales.blogspot.com  and http://lee-anthro.blogspot.com/

29th May 2017 – Rutger Vos, Naturalis Biodiversity Center

Rutger VosMy name is Rutger Vos, and I am computational evolutionary biologist at the natural history museum of the Netherlands, Naturalis. My educational background is in evolutionary biology, most especially in phylogenetics, i.e. the field of biology that concerns itself with researching the Tree of Life. For my PhD research, it became clear that I needed to handle amounts of tree and alignment data that were unmanageable to do ‘by hand’ on a normal computer, so I taught myself programming and how to use high-performance computing systems.
One thing led to another and I ended up doing my postdocs as a contributor to various infrastructures having to do with phylogenetics, most notably the CIPRES (http://www.phylo.org) project and TreeBASE (http://www.treebase.org) – but also projects having to do with data standards and data sharing in biology. ‘Open Science’, basically.
Meanwhile, the high-throughput DNA sequencing (NGS) revolution was starting to spit out more and more genomes, with which I started to play around. So much so that by the time Naturalis started looking for a bioinformatician to contribute to the NGS projects that were going on over there I could plausibly apply for a position.
At Naturalis I’ve become involved in a lot of different projects, all of which have bioinformatics or computational biology in common but are otherwise very broad-ranging. I’ve had the good fortune to be able to work with many of the kinds of data, information and knowledge that circulate in a natural history museum. For example, apart from DNA I’m also analyzing image data from our specimen digitization efforts, scanned texts, and species traits and distributions.
On Twitter (@rvosa) I let out my interest in ‘unnatural history’. It’s a totally vague term that I’ve adopted to look at and talk about the cultural ways in which we interact with nature. I mean things like art about nature; the way we, biologists, do science about nature; how we as a species are colliding with biodiversity because of our actions. By the way, I later found out there’s also a book called ‘Unnatural History’. I haven’t read it but it looks neat and it looks like it’s partly about the same topic.