1st May 2017 – Teresa Mastracci, Indiana Biosciences Research Institute

Teresa MastracciHi, Biotweeps! I am a Senior Scientist at the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute. A molecular and developmental biologist by training, I have a mad fascination for the study of diabetes. Diabetes is a disease characterized by the progressive loss of insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Individuals with diabetes overcome this beta cell destruction or dysfunction by daily administration of exogenous insulin – a viable and long-standing therapy. However, the long-term complications associated with diabetes are never truly eliminated. So research efforts have recently moved to the generation of therapies that could fix, not just treat, the beta cell loss.

My lab uses the mouse and zebrafish model systems to study the signals that induce pancreatic progenitor cells to differentiate or insulin-producing beta cells to regenerate. Our work is motivated by the idea that once identified, we may be able to harness these growth, differentiation, or regeneration signals to create novel treatments for type 1 diabetes.

A Canadian by birth and at heart, I completed my BSc in Molecular Biology and Genetics at the University of Guelph and my PhD in Cancer Genetics at the University of Toronto. I then moved south of the border for postdoctoral studies at Columbia University and began merging my interests in developmental biology and human disease by studying cell fate determination in mutant mouse models with dramatic diabetes phenotypes. My research interests eventually brought me to Indianapolis where I was recruited to the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute (http://www.indianabiosciences.org ) — a non-profit research institute that brings together academic and industrial science. My lab has been going strong for a year and we’re excited about some pretty cool research that will be coming out soon!

When I’m not in the lab or writing, I absolutely love to travel. Seeing new places and meeting new people can open your mind to such extraordinarily unique perspectives. In fact, I’ve done some of my most creative scientific writing or experimental brainstorming on the plane rides home from somewhere. I’m excited to kick off May for the @biotweeps — I hope to share my love of developmental biology, diabetes research, and what’s new and exciting at IBRI!

Via Twitter you can reach me @tlmastracci or the Indiana Bioscience Research Institute @INBiosciences – keep up to date on exciting discoveries in general science, diabetes research, developmental biology as well as progress in biomedical research, technology and innovation in Indiana.

24th April 2017 – Danielle Gilroy, Operation Wallacea

Danielle GilroyI am a terrestrial research and operations officer at Operation Wallacea, based in the UK with offices worldwide, and carrying out conservation research in 15 different countries. I oversee of all the forest-based research and am also the Senior Scientist for our largest forest site, Cusuco National Park in Honduras. My main research interests are centred in evolutionary biology and using a combination of molecular and ecological tools to investigate how evolution shapes diversity in populations. I have always strived to carry out research with real conservation applications and I am helping Operation Wallacea’s sister charity, the Operation Wallacea Trust, to make use of our large spatial and temporal datasets from sites around the world to lever funds to best establish conservation practice and work towards protecting particularly vulnerable and highly biodiverse ecosystems.

My PhD at the University of East Anglia focussed on a particular conservation success story, the Seychelles warbler (Acrocephalus sechellensis). This endemic island passerine was once down to just 25 individuals on a single island in the Seychelles archipelago in the 1980s, but has since recovered due to a combination of science research integrated with effective island management. There are now over 3000 birds across five islands, 115 times what it was over three decades ago and importantly, we have learnt a lot by using this species as a model of evolutionary study. My thesis looked at the causes and consequences of functional variation within the bottlenecked source population of Seychelles warbler. I investigated how variation at genes critical in innate immune defence could influence individual fitness and a bird’s ability to fight disease, mainly avian malaria, and considered the long-term viability of the species by assessing its genetic health and predicting future changes under natural selection.

During my week, I will focus on our work at Operation Wallacea and present to you our ongoing conservation research across our many terrestrial and marine sites. I will also talk about the importance of molecular ecology as a relatively new and quickly-growing field and as an ornithologist, will no doubt mention birds at every opportunity I can. On a similar note, I will no doubt mention my rescue staffy dog Tia who often accompanies me on my birding adventures.

17th April 2017 – Reeteka Sud, National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, India

Reeteka SudMy academic training has been in the field of Neuroscience. I have been in love with the brain since I was 13 I think. Watching a NatGeo documentary about the brain one Sunday afternoon proved really rather significant. This was long before I had any views about career for myself, let alone knowing the possibility of career in Neuroscience. It’s true what they say — for this day and age — “I watch, therefore I am”. So, that’s who I am — a neuroscientist.

Several beautiful chance encounters since watching the NatGeo documentary, I found myself doing PhD, in Neuroscience! Here, I studied the changes happening in brain during chronic pain; how drugs influence these changes when they do, and don’t, relieve pain. When I was a graduate student, the human genome was first mapped. I started thinking about what genes can, and cannot, do. My postdoc work then naturally was about targeting how genetic elements (not always functional genes, but DNA sequences within genome) are involved — in increasing chances of a disease, and how that aspect can be used to develop better treatments.

Along the way, I added ‘science communication’ and ‘integrating research and education’, as two other things I really care about (and therefore will tweet about during my time with Biotweeps 🙂

3rd April 2017 – Caroline Bettridge, Manchester Metropolitan University

Caroline BettridgeI’m a senior lecturer in Behavioural Ecology at Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK.  My main research interests are in the social behaviours of mammals, including how flexible behaviour is, how animals respond to the environment they are living in and how an animal’s behaviour increases its survival or reproductive success.  My current research focuses on a species of African nocturnal primate – the northern lesser bushbaby, and white rhinoceros. In the past I’ve also used modelling approaches to investigate elements of primate behaviour and human evolution.  I do a lot of fieldwork, mostly in East Africa, and also take project students out to the field each year.  I also teach on a wide range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses related to behavioural biology, and I currently supervise two PhD students.

I’ve always had a passion for wildlife and I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to pursue a career in this field.  It hasn’t always been a direct route, and I took a few years after my undergraduate degree in Zoology, to earn some money and gain some field experience before returning to studying.  I completed my DPhil at Oxford University, UK in the Institute for Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, and then did a short teaching fellowship at Lancaster University before starting at my current department.

During my week on biotweeps I’ll probably chat about my behavioural ecology research, as well as some of the work my students are involved in; fieldwork; and my experience of being in academia – including some of the other elements of my job outside of research and teaching.

Outside of work a lot of my time revolves around my high maintenance dog, Huxley a French bulldog cross, and I generally enjoy exploring the outdoors and new places.  I’m on Twitter @CMBettridge.

20th March 2017 – Jez Smith, Cardiff University, Eco-explore CIC

Jez SmithHi all! I’m Jez, a 2nd year PhD student at Cardiff University with a NERC GW4+ funded project. My academic passion is studying a small long distance migrant bird, the Pied Flycatcher which is currently in a steep population decline, hence my twitter handle @PiedflyWales. Using novel statistical techniques called Integral Projection Models (IPMs) I hope to try to understand the effect size that various factors have on population trends and which areas management and policy should be focussed on to reverse their fate. I have had the pleasure to study the Pied Flycatcher in Wales, Portugal and Ghana and am interested in all aspects of avian behaviour and migration. Some of my tweets will therefore be focussed around the topics of climate change, birds and animal behaviour.

Other tweets will revolve around different International days this week such as the International day of the forests and world water day. I want to share some of the amazing work that is being done on these topics both academic and non-academic.

One issue that I feel strongly about is the work life balance issue and so will therefore also be wanting to hear from people about their passions outside of work even if it relates to work (i.e. bird ringing). For me, besides my academic research I spend my time competing on the university Latin and Ballroom dance circuit, with a distinct preference for Jive.

Prior to the PhD I worked as a data analyst, expedition leader and ornithologist with experience having participated in and lead expeditions in Europe, Africa and Central America. I have co-lead a Senegalese research expedition with Dr. Rob Thomas identifying causes of decline in Reed and Sedge warblers, contributing to Dr James Vafidis’ PhD. All of the above are co-directors, with Dr Alexandra Pollard, of Eco-Explore (http://www.eco-explore.co.uk).

I’m looking forward to sharing some of my research with everyone and hearing others opinions on their work and the work of others.


13th March 2017 – Darwin Fu, Vanderbilt University

Darwin FuHello Biotweeps! I’m Darwin, a Chemistry PhD student in my final year (*knocks on wood* *prays to the ancient gods*) at Vanderbilt University. I spend my day writing programs for modelling how drug molecules interact with their targets. The goal is to improve our ability to use computers to predict which compounds will bind to a given disease target and the way they will bind. Better computational, or “dry lab”, experiments complement traditional “wet-lab” experiments, which can often be very time consuming.

I work in the lab of Dr. Jens Meiler (http://meilerlab.org) coding mostly for Rosetta (http://rosettacommons.org/), a software package for structural biology modeling. Rosetta is a collaborative project with 40+ research labs around the world actively developing methods for everything from designing catalytic sites of enzymes to predicting binding of HIV antibodies. You may have come across Rosetta in the form of Rosetta@Home, a citizen science distributed computing project, or through FoldIt, a computer game that converts unsolved protein structures into puzzles for players (see https://boinc.bakerlab.org/ and https://fold.it/portal/). You may have also heard about our recent exploration of comet 67P (just kidding, that is completely unrelated).

My research is focused on protein-small molecule docking and virtual screening for Computer-Aided Drug Design applications.  Depending on available collaborations, we work on systems ranging from G-Protein Coupled Receptors to Signal Transducer and Activator of Transcription proteins. Part of the job involves making computational tools more accessible to researchers who may be less well-versed in modelling. This usually means making tutorials, web servers, and graphical interfaces. I would love to continue along these lines after graduation and work in scientific software development. I am also interested in researching rare diseases and using modeling to repurpose “failed” compounds to structurally similar targets.

My undergraduate degree is in Chemical Engineering and Biochemistry from the University of California, San Diego. I had a choice between working on hands-on biomaterials research and molecular dynamics modeling of influenza infections. I chose the latter and went down a computational research path. I planned to do more biochemistry in grad school but a few weeks in the cold room and my terrible gel loading skills quickly changed that.

Besides research, I’m interested in science communication and citizen science, particularly for adult education. I also moonlight as a pub quizmaster and connoisseur of “weird” foods. My non-science dream job would be working in sports analytics. Feel free to talk sports, trivia, or odd eats with me (also scotch…yum).

Sadly, there won’t be as many relevant cute animal GIFs over the course of this week, but I promise there will be dancing protein animations instead. I hope to share my love of computer modelling and to learn more about computing applications in your fields. I am also in the process of starting a new outreach effort and would love some input. There may also be a little structure based contest with a nerdy prize. Stay tuned!

Reach me via Twitter (@EquationForLife) or check out the blog I’m restarting (https://equationforlife.wordpress.com/)