Hi Biotweeps! My name is Alex and I’m a final year PhD student studying animal locomotion at the University of Leeds. My research is largely focused on integrating the mechanics and energetics of avian flight, but I also dabble in insect flight and terrestrial locomotion. I tend to work with small parrots such as budgerigars and lovebirds, but I’m a big fan of birds in general and will jump at the chance to work with any species!
My research generally involves looking at the mechanics and energetics from both the organismal level and the muscular level, so some days I will be training a flock of cockatiels and others I will be working with single muscle fibres. I’m also interested in the behavioural and aerodynamic aspects of flight, and hope to develop more skills in these areas in the future.
Prior to my PhD, I undertook an MSc in Biodiversity and Conservation, which was also at the University of Leeds. My dissertation project focused on the risks posed by pesticides to British pollinators. I got to do some super fun fieldwork working with farmers and solitary bees, and this experience pretty much set me on the course towards starting my PhD.
Outside of the lab, I’m always looking to get more involved with science writing and STEM outreach activities. I have recently written articles for the Society of Experimental Biology and Biosphere magazine, and I enjoy presenting and discussing my research with a wide range of audiences. During my week of curation, you can expect to hear more about my work with birds, bees and beetles, as well as discussions about animal research ethics and methods of science communication … and hopefully we’ll have a little fun too!
I can often be found posting animal GIFs and preaching about tabletop games on Twitter at @alexevans91 and I blog about birds and bioscience topics over at BirdBrainedScience.
I am perhaps one of the few failed footballers that became a molecular entomologist.
My current research focuses on what genes are driving the phenomenon of migration in insects. A lot of people know about the great annual bird migrations, but perhaps less well known, is that billions of insects also migrate each year. Each migration is multi-generational. In other words, the offspring inherently know that they must migrate and in what direction. This means there must be a genetic basis. However, migration is not a simple phenomenon. It is a complex biological process that requires many changes in behaviour, morphology, and physiology in order for insects to undertake these vast journeys, which can sometimes reach up to thousands of kilometres. The specific genes responsible are therefore likely to be involved in many aspects of the insect’s biology which makes it a big challenge.
In our lab at Rothamsted Research, we are able to quantify at least one parameter which is strongly associated with insect migration – flight. Using an electronic tethered flight mill – which is like a fairground carousel for insects – we can characterise differences in the flight of migrating insects in a controlled environment. My role is to apply the latest DNA technology to uncover specific genetic differences in those insects which display migratory flight.
I trained at Durham University and the London School of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene where I developed an interest for insect biology. When it comes to genetics I was a late starter and didn’t begin learning about molecular biology until my PhD at Rothamsted Research. I then spent four years at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine where I studied the evolution of insecticide resistance in malaria mosquitoes combining field and lab work, often in Africa. I have been fortunate to learn from some very inspiring lecturers and supervisors over the years and if I can convey half as much passion and knowledge as they have, then I’ll have done a good job.
I am an ardent fan and season ticket holder at Liverpool Football Club and if the call does come through one day that Liverpool FC need an extra player then I might just be the first molecular entomologist to become a footballer.