12th August 2019 – Katherine James, Natural History Museum

Katherine James_3Hi, I’m Katherine and I’m currently Bioinformatics Manager at the Natural History Museum in London.  In November, I will be moving to Northumbia University as Vice Chancellors Fellow in Bioinformatics.  My research focuses on the analysis and systematic integration of largescale omics data and the development of approaches for the analysis of next generation sequencing data, with a focus on evolutionary genetics.

I originally studied Molecular Biology as an undergraduate at Newcastle but, due to a lack of jobs in the area at the time and following a disappointing third year project, I spent the next few years outside of science: managing a pub and restaurant (great fun, poor pay), and then working as an administrator for the Civil Service (better pay, mind-numbingly boring).

Eventually my love of biology and computing science led me back to Newcastle to the, then relatively new, MRes Bioinformatics course. I subsequently stayed to do a PhD in Computing Science (during which I was lucky enough to be one of the first Computing Science PhDs in the UK to do laboratory work during my project). As a Post-Doc I worked on a diverse range of project; from data analysis to software and algorithm development, and involving yeast, human and bacterial data, before moving to London to join the NHM.

My current research is very different from the classic “model-organism“-oriented work earlier in my career, and I often refer to it as “I’m a bioinformatician, get me out of here!”  If it has DNA, then we want to sequence it; I work with sharks, whales, scallops, tapeworms and a whole host of other invertebrate species. This week I’m looking forward to talking about the changes in bioinformatics over the last few years, and the challenges ahead as we apply bioinformatics algorithms to more diverse species.

5th August 2019 – Sarah Madden, University of Bath

Sarah MaddenHi everyone! I’m Sarah and I’m a research associate at the University of Bath, where I work on developing new cancer medicines. It is possible that my takeover of the Biotweeps channel may take the channel closer to the Chemistry-Biology interface than ever before!

I’m really fascinated in designing new medicines against hard-to-drug cancer targets, such as medicines to inhibit protein-protein interactions. These are especially tricky to block due to their large and often flat interaction surfaces. This means there are often no binding pockets for conventional small-molecule medicines to bind to. Instead I have worked on using medicines that are larger molecules, such as peptides and as protein-based medicines, as these are arguably better as sticking to and therefore blocking binding interfaces such as these. My PhD focused on developing a new approach to functionalise a repeat protein scaffold to act as a protein-protein interaction inhibitor. Previous to my PhD work, I carried out my undergraduate masters in Chemistry at the University in Oxford and a masters in Biology at the University of Cambridge. This gave me a good foundation and sparked my interest in this field.

I’m also interested in science communication and throughout my PhD I enjoyed taking part in wide range activities from stand-up comedy about my research to carrying out an internship with the Royal Institution in London. I’m particularly interested in carrying out science communication activities for groups that are underrepresented in science with a view to this helping to increase diversity in science. I have a strong belief that diverse teams are more effective teams and hope I can do my bit to help make them more prevalent in science.

You can find out more about my research and science communication work at the following links:

Twitter: @TheGingerSci

Google scholar: https://scholar.google.co.uk/citations?user=nvfSIO8AAAAJ&hl=en

Personal website: https://www.thegingerscientist.com

29th July 2019 – Minnesota Invasive Terrestrial Plants & Pests Center, University of Minnesota

Entomology -- InsectsThe Minnesota Invasive Terrestrial Plants & Pests Center (MITPPC) is a University of Minnesota research center generating practical, science-based solutions to protect prairies, forests, wetlands and agricultural resources from harm by invasive species. The Center grants funding to faculty working on prioritized invasive insects, weeds and pathogens in the region.

The MITPPC works with experts in agronomy, forestry, robotics engineering, veterinary epidemiology and many other areas. We encourage innovation and interdisciplinary study by drawing from the diverse talents of the entire University of Minnesota system. Our researchers also form community and research partnerships to bring new developments into management use.

MITPPC was officially established by the Minnesota State Legislature in 2014, and its mission is funded by the state’s Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative and Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources.

You can learn more about the MITPPC, terrestrial invasive species, and over 20 research projects online at https://mitppc.umn.edu/

22nd July 2019 – Steven Allain, University of Kent/Zoological Society of London

Steven AllainSteven is a current PhD candidate at the University of Kent where his research focuses on the population dynamics of the barred grass snake (Natrix helvetica) and the effects of snake fungal disease (Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola). Steven holds a BSc Zoology from Anglia Ruskin University and an MRes in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation from Imperial College London. Throughout his academic career, Steven’s main interests have been the conservation of amphibian and reptiles. This has taken many forms over the years including population monitoring and investigating for the influence of disease. One of the projects which you may be aware of is the monitoring of midwife toads (Alytes obstetricans) in Cambridge, where Steven has been coordinating a project to investigate the population size and to also screen for disease since 2015.

Steven is actively involved with the conservation of the UK’s herpetofauna but is also involved in projects across the world. Steven’s research has also seen him travel to a number of countries including Germany, Malaysia and Tanzania. Some of Steven’s affiliations include the British Herpetological Society (where he is a council member), Save the Snakes (where is on the advisory board) and the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Amphibian and Reptile Group (where he is chairman). Aside from Steven’s strong passion for the natural world and particularly of herpetofauna, he also has a strong scientific background too. With a large number of publications under his belt before starting his PhD, it is clear that Steven strives to improve our understanding of amphibians and reptiles as well as making this information available. You can find out more about Steven by visiting his website: http://www.stevenallain.co.uk/

8th July 2019 – Vicky Vásquez, Pacific Shark Research Center

Vicky VasquezVicky Vásquez is a graduate student under the Pacific Shark Research Center (PSRC) where she studies ‘Lost Sharks’; a term used to described lesser known or undiscovered species of cartilaginous fishes. She also serves as the social media manager to the larger entity, Moss Landing Marine Labs. Vicky combines her outreach efforts with her research as a tool for engaging a broader audience. One such example includes the discovery of the first Lanternshark species off the Pacific coast of Central America. In an effort to excite school age children with the discovery, Vicky reached out to her younger cousins as well as a local San Francisco youth group for suggestions on the name of the new shark species. When the Ninja Lanternshark discovery was made public, the news went viral and was even featured in the comic, Sherman’s Lagoon. In addition, the scientific name, Etmopterus benchleyi, is a nod to Peter Benchley’s often unnoticed contributions towards ocean conservation. Another research highlight from Vicky’s work is being apart of first research team to ever tag a Goblin Shark (Mitzsukurina oswtoni). In some of her past sharky fieldwork, Vicky has worked with Great Whites, Soupfins, Sevengills, Hammerheads, Leopard Sharks, Bay Rays, and Thornback Rays. She uses her work with sharks as a lead into to broader issues affecting the world’s oceans such as plastic pollution and overfishing. Some of Vicky’s other science communication work includes several appearances on Discovery Channel’s Shark Week; co-host of the Ocean Science Radio podcast, freelance writer and public speaker. To follow Vicky’s work, check out her Facebook and Instagram pages with the handle @VickyShark or find her right here on Twitter @VickySharky

24th June 2019 – Lucy Taylor, Save the Elephants/ University of Oxford

Lucy TaylorHi everyone! My name is Dr Lucy Taylor (@LucyATaylor) and I am a Postdoctoral Researcher with Save the Elephants and the University of Oxford. My current research focuses on African savannah elephant behaviour and movement ecology. In particular, I use GPS tracking data from elephants in northern Kenya to investigate whether elephants change their movement patterns in relation to life history events, such as giving birth, and to humans.

Alongside my research, I am also passionate about student support and development, particularly of graduate students. My route through the education system was not exactly linear. After dropping out of A-levels (high school), I took a vocational qualification at an agricultural college, followed by BSc (hons) Animal Science and an MSc by Research. I then somehow got into the University of Oxford for a DPhil (PhD), which I completed in 2018. My thesis investigated the modulations in movement by homing pigeons and African savannah elephants. How are homing pigeons and elephants connected, you may ask. Well – I started my PhD studying pigeons, then I became allergic to them and had to switch subject. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to switch to studying elephants in collaboration with Save the Elephants. It was not the easiest journey, but I’ve learnt a huge amount in the process and I really enjoy both sharing the tips I have learned and supporting other students through the PhD process.

I’m excited to join you @biotweeps for the week and look forward to talking to you all about elephants, movement ecology, and the highs and lows of academic life!

17th June 2019 – Heather Slinn, University of Guelph

Heather SlinnI’m a PhD candidate in Integrative Biology at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario. My PhD research is interdisciplinary and spans microbiology, bioinformatics (analyzing biological data, for e.g. DNA sequences, using computer science), ecology and chemistry – where I often work collaboratively with chemists. My specialty lies in how plants, fungi and insects interact with one another in tropical ecosystems. I ask questions like; how does plant chemistry affect other organisms in the community? And, what variables are important for determining which fungi colonize the interior of leaves (termed fungal endophytes)? More recently, I’m working on a project that looks at whether digestion of seeds by bats influence fungi the colonize seeds and improve seed germination. This fall, I’ll be going to Brazil to work with a chemist on how these fungal endophytes contribute to the chemistry in plants. You might be wondering, why are these questions important? My work aims to contribute to our understanding of how species interact with one another in a highly diverse and complex ecosystem. This is especially important because of the decline in species diversity in the tropics, due to factors such as deforestation and climate change. There are also potential applications for agriculture, through how plants may defend themselves against enemies and pharmacy by discovering new compounds which may have properties to combat human diseases.

Part of the fun of being a tropical ecologist, is getting to travel to different sites and comparing the answers to our research questions. During my PhD, I’ve conducted research in the lowland rainforests of Costa Rica and the cloud forests of the Andes in Ecuador. These research trips can last anywhere between 1 week to 4 months. I enjoy exploring new places, learning new languages, eating tasty food and drinking the local beers and wines. So, this type of work agrees with me. However, when in Guelph, you can find me tending to my balcony garden, meeting with the Guelph chapter of a women in STEM organization and running in the trails. I hope you enjoy my week on @biotweeps.

Find out more about me and my work here:

Scholar: https://scholar.google.ca/citations?user=slaTV_UAAAAJ&hl=en
Website: http://www.heatherslinn.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/h_slinn