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.

27th March 2017 – Alicia McConnell, Boston Children’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School

Alicia McConnellHi Biotweeps! I am originally from North Carolina and was an Animal Science major as an undergraduate at North Carolina State University. For graduate school, I stayed in NC and received my Ph.D. in cell biology from Duke University. I then moved with my lab across the US to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles during my second year to complete my graduate research on lung stem cell biology. My work was funded by NASA, who wanted to know the risk of cancer in astronauts exposed to cosmic radiation (harmful radiation found in space). To test this, we studied the behavior of lung stem cells in mice after exposure to simulated cosmic radiation and saw how that correlated to cancer development. This really interesting project led to the discovery that an important tumor suppressor gene, Trp53, is not only required for radiation response, but also controls normal lung stem cell division and differentiation, or the process of creating a more specialized cell. Seeing how changes in stem cell behavior directly affects cancer development made me want to better understand the process of tumor initiation and progression.

I am currently a postdoctoral fellow studying cancer biology in the Zon lab at Boston Children’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School. My research involves investigating the signaling pathways that cause normal pigmented cells, or melanocytes, to become cancerous. I use a unique zebrafish model to visualize the earliest stages of skin cancer formation. I love imaging, so be prepared for lots of microscopy and adorable fish pictures during my Biotweeps take over!

When I’m not in the lab, I am spending time outdoors hiking with my husband and two dogs, Roxie (a one-eyed pit mix) and Charlie (a Border Collie). I am also an avid aerialist and dancer; I love being upside down! Follow me on twitter @DrAMcConnell.

12th December 2016 – Simon Gingins, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology

DCIM100GOPROI was born and raised in Switzerland, a landlocked country mostly covered by the Alps, where I love to spend my free time hiking, snowboarding, mountain biking and climbing. For work, however, I prefer travelling to remote tropical islands to study the behaviour or coral reef fishes. I started my studies in biology at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland), where I did a master thesis on the behaviour of the cleaner wrasse Labroides dimidiatus. Cleaners pick parasites off the body of other reef fishes, called “clients”, and have a very elaborate behaviour in order to deal with their incredibly high number of daily cooperative interactions (up to 2000). This was an amazing experience, and I got the chance to keep doing research on cleaners during my PhD at the University of Neuchâtel (Switzerland). For this project, I spent extended periods of time in beautiful locations such as the Egyptian shores of the Red Sea, the island of Moorea in French Polynesia and Lizard Island, on the great Barrier Reef in Australia. Don’t get me wrong, it is not because marine biologists go to paradisiac locations for work that the job is easy. Fieldwork is hard, physically demanding, and often frustrating, but being rewarded with a sunset over the ocean at the end of the day makes everything much, much simpler.

Over the past years I also got interested in collective behaviour, and I had the idea to test some of the emerging questions in this field with group-living damselfishes. Just after completing my PhD, I obtained a fellowship from the Swiss National Science Foundation for this project, which I am currently working on in the Department of Collective Behaviour, at the Max Planck Institute in Konstanz (Germany). You will get to hear more about this endeavour since I will be tweeting for @biotweeps live from Eliat, Israel, the field site where I collect data for this project.

Through all these travels I also developed a strong interest in photography. With my background, unsurprisingly, my favourite place to take photographs is underwater, on the reef. One of the reasons why I love this environment so much is that you can get very close to the animals, much closer than you could on land, which also makes great opportunities for animal photography. But I don’t limit myself to underwater photography, I also enjoy capturing the beauty of mountains and other natural landscapes. You can see a collection of my pictures on my website www.simongingins.com, and interact directly with me on twitter @SimonGingins.

Looking forward to interacting with you all on @biotweeps!

15th of August 2016 -Erin Spencer, Ocean Conservancy, National Geographic

Erin SpencerErin Spencer is a science communicator and National Geographic Explorer who uses photography and writing to share stories of community-based invasive species management around the world. A two-time National Geographic Young Explorer Grantee, Erin’s work primarily focuses on innovative responses to invasive lionfish in the Western Atlantic and Caribbean.

In 2014, Erin launched the Invasive Species Initiative, a website that uses digital storytelling to share grassroots approaches to invasive species management. The project aims to educate followers about the impacts of invasive species and provide them with tangible tools they can use to combat invasives in their own communities. Since the project’s launch, a number of organizations have used and/or funded her work, including NBC Universal, The New York Times, National Geographic, and CBS Sunday Morning. Her travels have taken her from Florida to Fiji, including a cross-country train trip with the Millennial Trains Project looking at invasive species management throughout the American south.

Erin graduated with honors from the College of William and Mary in 2014 with a major in Applied Ecology and a minor in Marine Science. She is currently based in Washington, D.C. and is a Digital Outreach Coordinator for the Ocean Conservancy. Erin tries to spend the majority of her “free time” writing and speaking about invasives, mentoring young women in STEM, and daydreaming about her next project. Follow along on Twitter and Instagram @etspencer, or on www.invasivespeciesinitiative.com.

Have a cool story about invasive species management? Contact the Invasive Species Initiative at etspencer14@gmail.com!

25th July 2016 – Sam Urmy, Stony Brook University

Sam UrmyI am a PhD candidate in Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University.  Broadly speaking, I’m interested in how marine animals move through and inhabit their environment–which is often unpredictable, patchy, and turbulent–and how the decisions of individuals lead to the distribution of populations.  To get at these questions, I use a mixture of remote sensing, modeling, and ecological theory.

My dissertation research is on the movement behaviors of common terns at Great Gull Island, NY, as they forage for  fish in the surrounding waters.  I use a scanning radar to track the terns, which lets me observe hundreds to thousands of birds at once without tagging them.  I also use active acoustics (i.e., scientific fishfinders) to map the distribution of the small fish the birds eat.  I have worked on other topics too, including zooplankton in mountain lakes, the distribution of juvenile pollock in the Bering Sea, and deep scattering layers in Monterey Bay.

Before coming to Stony Brook, I got a master’s degree in Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington, and a BS in Earth Systems at Stanford University.  I grew up in Brookline, MA, just outside of Boston.  When I’m not sciencing, I like cooking and eating food, reading, nature watching, and people watching.

You can read my blog, Oceanographer’s Choice, here, and follow me on Twitter @ElOceanografo.  If you would like to give me a job, my professional website is at http://www.ssurmy.net.

27th June 2016 – Centre for Marine Futures, University of Western Australia

Centre for Marine Futures.pngBIG PICTURE THINKING

Our vision is global, with partnerships and field programmes in most ocean basins either side of the Equator. Past and current sampling sites include: Western Australia, Palau, New Caledonia, the Chagos Archipelago, Tonga, French Polynesia, the Savage Islands (Ilhas Selvagens), The Philippines, and the Gulf of Oman.

SCIENCE THAT MATTERS

Our goal is to make a difference
Our research boasts high academic and real-life impact. It is used to directly inform and influence both policy and management actions. We are a member group of the Ocean Science Council of Australia (OSCA), an independent consortium of leading Australian experts concerned with advancing marine conservation.

RESEARCH

Our research focuses on marine ecological questions relevant to conservation and largely explores the influence of human activities on marine ecosystems.

Key questions our research explores include:
– How do pelagic sharks and fishes respond to the establishment of large marine reserves?
– What roles do apex predators play in tropical marine ecosystems?
– How is climate variability manifested in fish growth and what does this mean for warming oceans?
– How are sharks and fishes distributed on biogeographical scales and in relation to habitat?
– What are the socioeconomic drivers of illegal fishing?

These questions are addressed using a range of techniques included BRUVS, telemetry, biomarkers and predictive modelling.

SCIENTISTS

Dr Phil Bouchet
Postdoctoral fellow
I am a jack of several trades – marine mammalogist by training, converted into shark/fish ecologist as a doctoral student. I have a keen interest in spatial ecology and statistical modelling as they relate to wildlife conservation problems. Recently I developed abundance models for a number of cetacean species (humpback whales, bottlenose and snubfin dolphins) and distribution models for large pelagic fish (tunas and mackerels) around Western Australia.
My PhD research concentrated on ‘hotspots’ of mobile marine predators, and how these aligned with prominent physical features of the ocean floor such as seamounts, submarine canyons, or offshore shoals and banks. This involved coordinating or partaking in field expeditions to Shark Bay, the Timor Sea and the Perth canyon, where I used a new generation of midwater baited underwater video cameras to film endangered oceanic sharks in deep-water environments.
Dr Shanta Barley
Postdoctoral fellow
Reef sharks are being removed from coral reefs globally yet we do not understand how this affects these hotspots of biodiversity. Where sharks are absent, prey may change in terms of abundance, size, behaviour, diet, condition and growth rate, which could have severe knock-on effects on the rest of the ecosystem.
I explore these issues using stereo underwater video systems, stable isotopes and a range of other techniques.
David Tickler
PhD student
I am investigating how spatial ecology and population genetics impact the exposure and vulnerability of sharks to illegal fishing on Indian Ocean reefs, and how social, economic and legal factors affect the scale and range of the fishing effort in these locations. The study will use a combination of ecological tools (fine- and broad-scale movement tracking and population genetics), fisheries data collection at landing sites, and interviews with fishers and other actors to collect data on both the ecology of reef shark species and the fisheries that target them.
The spatial ecology and genetic studies will help understand the role of large MPAs such as Chagos in providing a refuge to reef shark species, and its wider role for these species in the Indian Ocean based on the connectivity (or lack thereof) between sub-populations. The study of illegal fishing aims to help quantify the magnitude of illegal fishing in a large oceanic MPA, identify the key drivers of this activity, and suggest points of engagement with regional stakeholders that will reduce illegal fishing effort.
Charlotte Birkmanis
PhD student
I am a marine biologist with a special interest in shark behaviour and conservation. My research in shark ecology, behaviour and genetics focuses on the role of sharks as regulators of tropical and temperate ecosystems across the Indian Ocean.
This research involves studying a variety of shark species and their prey to discover the implications of reduced shark populations in our oceans, and to determine the relative health of sharks in the Indian Ocean. I attained a Bachelor of Science with distinction in ecology and a Bachelor of Arts in mandarin from Queensland University of Technology. Following on from this, my research on shark and ray biomechanics earned me a Bachelor of Science (Honours I) degree from the University of Queensland. My research will highlight the importance of sharks in our oceans.
Marjorie Fernandes
PhD student
Pelagic (open-water) marine ecosystems are the largest marine environment on Earth. A key ecological component of pelagic systems are their sharks and fishes. My research will explore spatial ecology and behaviour of sharks and fishes using observations from two large marine protected areas (MPAs), the Chagos Marine Reserve and the Palau Shark Sanctuary.
I will be looking at spatial structure and behaviour patterns relating to environmental and habitat characteristics, regarding three pelagic ecosystems key components: (1) juveniles fishes; (2) forage species, and (3) top predators. I will use an innovative, non-destructive and fishery-independent approach, remote underwater camera system to sample pelagic fish and shark. By improving our understanding of how pelagic species use the environment, it will also contribute to improved MPA design.

28th March 2016 – Rob Thomas, Cardiff University & Eco-explore

Rob Thomas photoI am a senior lecturer at Cardiff University, and co-director of Eco-explore (www.eco-explore.co.uk); a scientific research and engagement enterprise. My research interests in zoology, ecology and conservation stem from my origins as a birdwatcher in mid-Wales. My research group studies animal behaviour in changing environments, investigating the effects of climate on individuals, populations and ecological processes – particularly how such effects may be mediated by the behaviour of individual animals. The environmental changes that we study range from habitat destruction, long-term climate changes, through seasonal and daily changes, to the sudden appearance of a potential predator or an unfamiliar type of food. This work falls under four main headings, though there is plenty of overlap between these topics.

Climate change biology 

Focusing on several major study systems that use migratory birds as sensitive bio-indicators of climate-driven changes in trophic relationships.

  • The European Storm Petrel –the smallest Atlantic seabird
  • The Northern Wheatear –which has the most extreme trans-oceanic migration of any songbird
  • Reed-bed warblers (Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers) –a pair of congeneric migrants with contrasting migration strategies
  • Pied Flycatchers and Barn Swallows –two model species in the study of climate impacts on migratory birds.

Sensory constraints on behaviour

  • Eye design in birds and visual constraints on behaviour
  • Impacts of light and noise pollution on wildlife

Dietary wariness and foraging ecology

  • Novel-food wariness in birds and fish, and its evolutionary consequences
  • Strategic regulation of energy reserves in wild birds

Impacts of human activities on wild animals

  • Impacts of capture and handling on birds and other animals
  • Practical conservation of populations, habitats and biodiversity hotspots in a changing world
  • Ecological impacts of eco-tourism

Scientific engagement work

My role in Eco-explore involves a range of scientific engagement work with schools, universities and NGOs. One of my special interests is the teaching of data analysis in a non-intimidating way, to empower amateur and professional researchers to explore the full potential of the data that they collect. I also run regular citizen-science expeditions and field courses in Portugal, Senegal and in the UK.

To find out more about my work at Cardiff University and Eco-explore, follow these links:

www.eco-explore.co.uk

https://www.cardiff.ac.uk/people/view/81297-thomas-robert