February 9th, 2015 – Eleanor Senior, University of Birmingham

Eleanor SeniorI am currently a 3rd year Biological Sciences MSCi studying at the University of Birmingham, but i’m still a Lancashire lass at heart. My interests involve both microbiology and botany, particularly in the area of Plant Pathology. I’m writing my dissertation on how microbes can affect and regulate normal plant development and I’m striving to make people see that plants are not a dull as everyone thinks, a particular problem in schools where you just learn about photosynthesis for 7 years straight. I the future I hope to study for my PhD in either plant biology or microbiology (if they can put up with me for 4 years that is!)

I am currently interested in how our knowledge of plants and microbes can be applied to wide reaching fields of science, from agriculture to pharmaceuticals. This seems to be of particular importance now there are issues arising in food security due to the exponentially growing human population.

I also have a keen interest in sport and nutrition, as a keen runner and gym bunny i am fascinated with the biomechanical processes by which we are able to move and also the biochemical processes that allow us to function.

I love Science Communication and am now a STEM ambassador for Birmingham and Solihull. I’ve already had the fortune to work at the British Science festival and soon I’ll be at the Big Bang Fair, spreading my interests with a wider audience.

February 2nd, 2015 – Peter Harrison, University of Leeds

Peter BharrisonI’m a PhD student obsessed with evolutionary developmental biology. Let’s call it evo-devo from now on. I’m interested in explaining mysteries that occurred several hundred million years ago during animal evolution. I do this by studying metazoan body plan evolution, gene co-option (and loss) in homologous gene regulatory networks, and issues of deep homology.

In St Andrews I worked with annelids (marine worms), investigating the co-option of developmental genes in the evolution of novel regenerating structures (Callan Memorial Scholarship). Or in plain English, I’m interested in how evolution can teach old genes new tricks. Genes don’t exist in isolation. When it comes to the development of an animal and its many tissues and organs, many genes and their products interact in complex gene regulatory networks. Some species might share the same network but the individual components may have changed. Networks can lose genes, gain entirely new ones, and ancient genes can find new roles.

I’m currently researching segmentation evo-devo in the red flour beetle and the potentially ancient origins of an arthropod segmentation clock. The evolution of segmentation can be quite contentious. We are internally segmented (think of your vertebrae), and so are many other animals such as earthworms and even fruit flies. But are we all segmented for the same reason? Was our last common ancestor segmented? Or has segmentation evolved multiple times independently? Perhaps more interestingly, has evolution used the same building blocks over and over to come up with segmentation? If so, it might be very difficult to tell what is convergent evolution and what isn’t. These problems fascinate me and I look forward to discussing them with the Biotweeps followers.

When I’m not playing with my cancer beetles (if you eat the flour they live in, you might get cancer), I’m communicating science through comedy, public-speaking, and occasional internet shenanigans. I have over 20 Twitter accounts. Please send help.