27th November 2017 – Patrice Jones, University of Newcastle

Patrice JonesHi Biotweeps,

I’m Patrice Jones (@patricerubyj) – a current PhD candidate at the University of Newcastle (Australia) with a research interest in environment-gene interactions in nutrition. My PhD focuses on UV-sensitive vitamins, and aims to examine the potential influences our UV-environment and genes may have in modifying the role of vitamins in health and disease. This involves studying how exposure to UV may stimulate both the production and degradation of important vitamins, and how genetics may influence how we respond to these vitamins in our diet (nutrigenetics). This research is interdisciplinary and allows me to regularly collaborate with researchers in other fields such as biomedical sciences, chemistry, physics and anthropology.

I completed a bachelor’s degree in Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Newcastle in 2015 and this background has shaped me into the ultimate ‘foodie’ – studying now as a nutrition scientist but still putting my food science knowledge into being an enthusiastic baker in my free time. Food is a central part of all our lives (everyone eats!) so part of the excitement of studying nutrition is that anyone can grasp aspects of my research. However nutrition can be an area of great confusion, with a flood of information available. The expression “make your science digestible” is hilariously relevant when you’re nutrition scientist, but part of being in this area for me has increasingly become about helping people navigate this space by communicating the science!

But I am not only about communicating the science within my field! I am a growing advocate for science outreach that promotes and inspires others in all STEMM paths. Being a first year PhD candidate, my list of #scicomm contributions is small but increasing! This year I have had the opportunity to write a science-based article for Lateral Magazine, be a key organiser of local Pint of Science Newcastle 2017 and act as a mentor at my university for students considering study in STEMM.

During my week hosting Biotweeps, I will also be attending the 10th Asia Pacific Conference of Clinical Nutrition in Adelaide (Australia), so expect lots of discussion on emerging research, as well as discussions into my current research area and a lot of nutrition/food myth busting.


20th November 2017 – Brit Garner, University of Montana; SciShow Psych

Brit GarnerBrit Garner holds a B.S. in zoology from the University of Florida with a minor in wildlife ecology and conservation and M.S. in marine biology from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Projects during her undergraduate and graduate degrees included phylogeography of brown darters and an endemic West Virginia snail, invasive herpetology in the Everglades, shark attack risk assessments in Volusia County, Florida, and ancient DNA analysis of seals and sea lions from Alaska. After spending a semester as an adjunct professor in North Carolina teaching both biology and human anatomy & physiology, she moved to Montana in 2013 and spent a year in the MFA program for science and natural history filmmaking at Montana State University. Despite enjoying creating videos and video content, Brit found herself missing the applied sciences, and transferred to the University of Montana in the spring of 2015, where she is currently a PhD student in wildlife biology. Though Brit has an academic background in conservation genetics and marine biology, she has recently expanded her research to include Big Data analytics for conserving global biodiversity. Some examples of these applications include using machine learning algorithms and text mining to find patterns in IUCN Red List decisions and using data visualizations to provide managers with prioritization schemata. While at MSU, Brit solidified her passion for using video as a medium for science communication, and found a professional outlet for this passion in Missoula through the Complexly family of content on YouTube, where she now hosts SciShow Psych. In her free time, Brit enjoys performing in musical theatre, tutoring, teaching, and engaging in other science communication efforts via avenues like Letters to a Pre-Scientist, Skype a Scientist, We Are Montana in the Classroom Role Models program, and a local non-profit she founded in 2017- the Missoula Interdisciplinary Science League (MISL).

13th November 2017 – Brittany N. Lasseigne, HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology

Brittany LasseigneBrittany Lasseigne, PhD, is a Senior Scientist in the lab of Dr. Richard Myers at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and a 2016-2017 Prevent Cancer Foundation Fellow. Dr. Lasseigne received a BS in Biological Engineering from the James Worth Bagley College of Engineering at Mississippi State University and a PhD in Biotechnology Science and Engineering from The University of Alabama in Huntsville. As a graduate student, she studied the role of DNA methylation and copy number variation in cancer, identifying novel diagnostic biomarkers and prognostic signatures associated with kidney cancer. In her current position, Dr. Lasseigne’s research focus is the application of genetics and genomics to complex human diseases. Her recent work includes the identification of gene variants linked to ALS, characterization of gene expression patterns in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and development of non-invasive biomarker assays. Dr. Lasseigne is currently focused on integrating genomic data, functional annotations, and patient information with machine learning across complex diseases to discover novel mechanisms in disease etiology and progression, identify therapeutic targets, and understand genomic changes associated with patient survival. Based upon those analyses, she is building tools to share with the scientific community. She is also passionate about science education and community outreach.

30th October 2017 – Emilie Novaczek, Memorial University of Newfoundland

Emilie NovaczekEmilie is a PhD candidate with Memorial University’s Marine Geomatics Research Lab in St. John’s, Newfoundland. She studies marine biogeography and seafloor mapping to inform conservation planning. To date, there has been little data available to study the interactions between climate change, seafloor habitat, and marine species distributions. For example, we still have better maps of the surface of the moon, Mars, and Venus than the vast majority of the Earth’s seafloor. Emilie’s research brings together many data sources, like navigational depth soundings from fishing vessels, to build better maps of Newfoundland’s seafloor geomorphology, sediment types, and associated habitats. She uses this information to investigate changes in marine species distribution on the Newfoundland Shelf since 1995, and to predict future shifts based on potential seafloor habitat and climate change projection.

As a conservation biologist, Emilie is very interested in environmental policy, and her research is often linked to management; recent projects include habitat mapping within a Marine Protected Area to assess capacity to meet conservation objectives, and mapping nearshore habitat of Atlantic Wolffish, one of few marine fish listed by the Canadian Species at Risk Act.  Outside of the GIS lab, Emilie is a scientific diver with experience ranging from Carribean coral reef restoration to specimen collection for biodiversity and fisheries studies in the Canadian Arctic. Emilie volunteers as a diver and interpreter for the Petty Harbour Mini Aquarium, a non-profit catch-and-release aquarium focused on hands-on ocean education for all ages, and as a research mentor for the Oceans Learning Partnership.

9th October 2017 – Nafisa Jadavji, Carleton University

Nafisa JadavjiDr. Nafisa M. Jadavji is a Neuroscientist. Currently, she is postdoctoral fellow researcher and instructor at Carleton University and the University of Ottawa, in Ottawa, Canada. She completed her doctoral training at McGill University in Montréal, Canada and postdoctoral training at the Charité Medical University in Berlin, Germany.  Her post-doctoral research focuses on understanding how dietary and genetic deficiencies in one carbon metabolism, specifically, folate metabolism, affects neurological function over the lifespan using a mouse model. Her research has been published in Behavioural Brain Research, Biochemical Journal, Neuroendocrinology, Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience, Human Molecular Genetics, European Journal of Neuroscience, Journal of Pediatric Reviews, Neural Regeneration Research, Environmental Epigenetics, Neurobiology of disease, and Neuroscience. Dr. Jadavji has been funded by the Federation of European Neuroscience Society (Europe), NeuroWIND (Germany), Canadian Association for Neuroscience, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, National Science & Engineering Research Council (Canada), International Brain Research Organization, Parkinson’s disease Foundation (US), Burroughs Wellcome Fund (US) and Fonds de la recherché en santé Québec (Canada). She is a regular reviewer for the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism, Neurotoxicity Research, Journal of Molecular Medicine and Neuroscience. Currently, Dr. Jadavji is an Editorial member for Updates in Nutritional Disorders and Therapy and JSM Nutritional Disorders Journals. She is also the Chair of the Board of Directors for the Journal of Young Investigators (JYI) and a board member of the Canadian Society for Molecular Biosciences.

28th August 2017- Julie Blommaert, University of Innsbruck

Julie BlommaertHi Biotweeps!

I’m Julie (@Julie_B92) and I’m really looking forward to hosting biotweeps and chatting to all of you this week about my interests and research!

My research interests all focus around evolution and genetics. I guess I should start with a little background about how I got to be interested in these topics. Growing up, I wanted to be a vet, but then a few life things pushed me away from vet school, and for a while I didn’t know which direction I’d like to go in, other than not-vet. I considered being a pilot, and was even lucky enough to be gifted a test flight for my 16th birthday, but decided that, even though flying is fun, I didn’t think I’d like it as a job. I still hope to get my private pilot’s licence though! A few months later, we started to focus on genetics in my biology classes, and I was hooked!

Fast-forward a few years, and I found myself at the University of Otago, doing my BSc majoring in Genetics. We had so many chances to do different lab projects and experiments, and I found my interests in EvoDevo (Evolutionary developmental biology- the field that compares how different species develop to get a deeper understanding of how different forms evolved). So that’s what I did my honours project in, looking at some genes that control early development in a weird animal called a rotifer (a tiny, cute zooplankton). I had some further adventures in EvoDevo, but I’m now doing my PhD in evolutionary genomics.

My PhD project focuses on the evolution of genome size in, coincidentally, the same species of rotifer that I worked with for my honours project! So, what is genome size and why do we care? Genome size refers to the amount of DNA per cell of any species. Usually, different individuals of the same species have the same amount of DNA per cell as each other, but not my rotifers! Within the same species, their genome size can vary by up to 30%, which is really weird. But again, why do we care? Genome size varies a lot across the whole tree of life, and there are lots of debates about why this might be. Lots of people have tried to make comparisons to figure out why this might be, but often, there have been other things that get in the way of comparing genome sizes because the species being compared were so different. So, hopefully, we can study genome size change in a single species and learn a bit more about why genome size changes, and why some genomes (including our own), seem to be mostly “junk”.

Other than my PhD work, I really like spending time outdoors; climbing, hiking, relaxing in the sun, and I also play for my local canoe polo team.

I’ll talk more about my work and hobbies through the week, I hope you’re as excited about this week as I am!

7th August 2017 – Shandiya Balasubramaniam, Museums Victoria

Shandiya BalasubramaniamHi Biotweeps!

I’m an evolutionary ecologist working on avian systems. In a nutshell, I like to know what birds do, and why, where, and how they do it.

I completed a PhD at the University of Melbourne on the evolution and ecology of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes in south-eastern Australian passerines (songbirds). MHC genes are a vital component of the vertebrate immune system, and I wanted to know more about the evolutionary processes underpinning variation in these genes. I was also interested in how MHC variation was influenced by ecological variables, such as dispersal behaviour and habitat configuration. To answer these questions, I mist-netted over a thousand birds across two years, resulting in a love/hate relationship with early mornings. Somewhere along the winding PhD journey I developed an interest in wildlife disease, and ended up doing a survey of avian malaria in woodland birds as well.

I’m currently a research fellow at Museums Victoria in Australia, where I’m working on a few different projects. My main focus at the moment is on the ecological ramifications of beak and feather disease virus (BFDV) on threatened parrots. BFDV is thought to be infectious to all parrots, but can it also infect other birds? And if so, what does that mean for the transmission of BFDV across species? If you’re interested in knowing more about any of my research, get in contact!

When I’m not science-ing, I’m either baking bread or accumulating cats. I can be found on Twitter @ShandiyaB.