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.


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/)

6th March 2017 – Tim Lucas, University of Oxford

tim-lucasI am a postdoctoral scientist using geospatial statistics to study malaria epidemiology. My focus is the disaggregation of administrative level malaria case data to pixel level estimates of disease risk. This is particularly important in areas of low malaria prevalence. I have written a number of R packages including Zoon, a package for ecological species distribution modelling. I have a statistics-focussed handle, @statsforbios.

5th December 2016 – Ashley Otter, Royal Veterinary College, University of London

ashley-otterHi everyone! I’m Ash and I’m a 2nd year PhD student based at the Centre for Emerging, Endemic and Exotic Diseases (CEEED) at Royal Veterinary College (RVC), part of the University of London. At the moment, I’m currently trying to get as much data for my PhD that is based on studying transcriptional regulators in Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the biggest killer worldwide by infectious disease.

You could say I started my career in microbiology when I was studying my A-levels (just before university), where I had two amazing biology teachers that inspired me to go on to pursue microbiology at a university. I eventually decided to start a Bachelor of Science degree in microbiology at Cardiff University School of Biosciences in 2011. Here, I was lucky enough to undertake a professional training year (PTY) as part of my degree, where I could take a year out of my undergraduate studies to experience a research laboratory.

I secured a place in the laboratory of Prof. Les Baillie, researching anthrax specific bacteriophages (more of which I will talk about if people are interested!). This year of working in a research lab and gaining lots of experience made me want to continue a career in microbiology research.

After finishing my PTY, I then went back and finished my undergraduate degree and graduated in July 2015. During my final year of study/university, I applied for a PhD project with research focused on transcriptional regulators in the Mycobacterium genus, a highly diverse group of bacteria including the pathogens Mycobacterium tuberculosis (the major cause of the human disease: Tuberculosis), Mycobacterium bovis (predominant causative bacterium of Tuberculosis in cattle) and Mycobacterium leprae (the cause of leprosy).

More specifically, my work is focussed around the elusive TetR family of transcriptional regulators (TFTRs). In M. tuberculosis and M. bovis, TFTRs are a group of regulators previously identified as being involved in regulating various genes involved in things such as antibiotic resistance, cholesterol metabolism and branched chain amino acid metabolism. My work consists of some bioinformatics and then applying this bioinformatic knowledge to a range of molecular biology tools to determine the functions of these TFTRs and what genes they are involved in regulating.

I look forward to hearing from everyone and hope to answer some questions!

12th September 2016 – Aubrey Tauer, Cura Earth, City University of New York

aubrey-tauerI am a jack-of-all trades veterinary epidemiologist, who works at the intersection of animal, human, and environmental health. I grew up in Minnesota obsessed with animals and the outdoors and originally wanted to be a behavioral ecologist. After volunteering and interning at wildlife rehabilitation centers and getting my first taste of science communication interning at Brukner Nature Center in Ohio, I decided I wanted to find a way to be a free-ranging wildlife veterinarian. While majoring in ecology, evolution, and animal behavior at the University of Minnesota, working in several research labs, and continuing to do wildlife rehabilitation. I also studied abroad in Paris (art) and Nicaragua (primate behavior and ecology). I discovered Conservation Medicine (now more commonly referred to as One Health) and decided to go to veterinary school and get a master of public health, which I did at the University of Minnesota (in ’08 and ’12). During veterinary school I was lucky enough to get funding to spend a total of 9 months on 3 separate occasions in Africa, studying chimpanzees in the Republic of Congo, western lowland gorillas in Gabon, and mountain gorillas in Uganda. I did rotations at zoos and Fossil Rim Wildlife Center during my senior year.

After veterinary school, I moved to Seattle for a year to work as a small animal ER vet, before moving to Chicago to work in the Lincoln Park Zoo’s veterinary epidemiology center, where I focused on avian influenza primarily but also contributed to projects on West Nile virus, urban wildlife health, chimpanzee health in Africa, and the wildlife trade. I then returned to Minnesota to finish up my master of public health. Soon after I founded a nonprofit, Cūra Earth, which focuses on conservation and public health research and capacity building in Central America. Working for my own NGO has given me the flexibility to spend several months in Colombia volunteering as a vet at a zoo and aquarium, blog and do some science writing, conduct research on sea turtle health and tick borne diseases, and become an academic, teaching veterinary nursing and biology in Minnesota and now New York City, where I am based. I have a strong interest in science communication and hope to write a book soon, as well as continue blogging about wildlife disease and One Health.

30th May 2016 – Sally Faulkner, Queen Mary University

Sally FaulknerI spent most of my twenties, running round the world, testing my parents sanity to the brink with harebrained hippy ideas and avoiding any sort of responsibilities. All of a sudden reality hit home – I don’t remember the impact – all I knew I was suddenly applying for university, aged 30 3/4. I haven’t actually left university since. I did my undergraduate degree in Zoology, a masters in Primatology, and I am currently in my 2nd (maybe…they all seem to merge into one when you don’t have a summer holiday) year of my 4 year PhD. I have been on a steep learning curve over the last 6 years. I had never really used computers before, let alone opened an excel spread sheet and now I spend my days coding spatial models and actually understanding it – mostly. I was very lucky to be able to spend three seasons (May to August) living and working in the Indonesian tropics – mostly chasing small, elusive, nocturnal primates and trying to avoid reticulated pythons and bird eating spiders. It was my first real scientist job, and I got a thrill every time I was introduced to the students as the tarsier scientist.  But thats all behind me now, I am now a computer scientist and people send me data that they have collected whilst avoiding near death experiences in dangerous places. I use a method called geographic profiling. It is a technique commonly used in criminology to locate serial killers, arsonists and rapists. We are applying this technique to biological data sets – sources of invasive species,  disease outbreaks, animal roosts (for example: small, elusive nocturnal primates) to name a few. It has also been used to locate and identify Banksy from the location of his art.

Follow me @Tarsiussallius

18th January 2016 – British Ornithologists’ Union

IBIS avatarThis week the BOU (@IBIS_journal) has lined up a series of ornithology tweeps to discuss a different avian science topic each day. Look out for free IBIS content linked to from tweets which will only be available during this BOU ornithology Biotweeps week!

IBIS_Dan BeckerMonday, 18 January | Avian health and disease
Dan Becker | @danjbecker | University of Georgia, US

Dan is a PhD candidate at the University of Georgia, where he studies infectious disease dynamics, particularly of zoonoses. He is interested in how changes to food resources of wildlife (whether these are acorn masts or supplemental feeding) interact with host ecology to shift infection outcomes. He dabbles in mathematical modeling and fieldwork, the latter focused on vampire bats and livestock intensification in Latin America.

Today Dan will be posting about avian infectious disease, but expect at least a few related to health benefits and costs of bird feeding. Dan’s personal website is danieljbecker.weebly.com.

IBIS_Tom EvansTuesday, 19 January | Avian tracking
Tom Evans | @ThomasEvans | Lund University, Sweden

Tom is a British biologist based at Lund University in Sweden. His PhD work is focussed on the movement ecology of seabirds, which I study with GPS and other technologies.

Today Tom will be discussing avian tracking and the fantastic insights new technologies have given scientists into the lives of birds. We are learning of extraordinary trans-oceanic migrations by shorebirds flying 10,000 kilometres non-stop from Alaska to New Zealand, of aerial insect eating birds spending 9 months in the air without landing, and of geese migrating across the Himalayas reaching altitudes of 7,000 metres.


IBIS_Nino OHanlonWednesday, 20 Janaury | Seabird ecology
Nino O’Hanlon | @Nina_OHanlon | University of Glasgow, UK & Sjúrður Hammer | @sjurdur | University of Glasgow, UK

IBIS_Sjúrður HammerNina and Sjúrður are PhD students at the University of Glasgow (@UofGlasgow) supervised by Ruedi
Nager. Nina is a looking at spatial variation in herring gull traits and demography, and whether Herring Gulls can be used as Sjurdur portrait indicators of coastal marine environments. Sjúrður is mainly interested in great skua breeding ecology in the Faroe Islands, pollution monitoring – both with regards to marine plastic and Persistent Organic Pollutants. They both share a particular research interest in seabird eggs – oology – and what they can potentially reveal about seabird ecology and pollutant.


IBIS_Richard FaceyThursday, 21 January | Weather and fecundity
Richard Facey | @faceyrj | Cardiff University, UK

Rich has worked in nature conservation for 13 years, going part-time as a Conservation Officer for Natural Resources Wales, in order to become a part-time postgraduate student at Cardiff University. His research interests are predominately focused on how organisms adapt to changing environments – be that from climate change or urban expansion – with an emphasis on weather and fecundity. In 2013 he enrolled as a part-time post graduate student at Cardiff University. His thesis examines the impact of local weather variation on the seasonal fecundity of Swallows Hirundo rustica and the decisions they make to overcome those impacts.


IBIS_Kate PlummerFriday, 22 January | Urban birds
Kate Plummer | @_KatePlummer | BTO, UK & Co-Organiser of #BOU2016 Urban Birds conference

Kate is a Research Ecologist at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO – @_BTO) with a passion for urban ecology. Her research focuses on human-wildlife interactions in urban areas, and she’ll be tweeting some interesting facts and figures about urban birds – what shapes urban bird communities, how are birds adapting to live in our rapidly changing cities, and why might interacting with urban birds be beneficial for human well-being? If these questions interest you as much as they do me, then check out our upcoming BOU conference. You can find out more about Kate and her research here or on twitter @_KatePlummer.