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.

29th May 2017 – Rutger Vos, Naturalis Biodiversity Center

Rutger VosMy name is Rutger Vos, and I am computational evolutionary biologist at the natural history museum of the Netherlands, Naturalis. My educational background is in evolutionary biology, most especially in phylogenetics, i.e. the field of biology that concerns itself with researching the Tree of Life. For my PhD research, it became clear that I needed to handle amounts of tree and alignment data that were unmanageable to do ‘by hand’ on a normal computer, so I taught myself programming and how to use high-performance computing systems.
One thing led to another and I ended up doing my postdocs as a contributor to various infrastructures having to do with phylogenetics, most notably the CIPRES (http://www.phylo.org) project and TreeBASE (http://www.treebase.org) – but also projects having to do with data standards and data sharing in biology. ‘Open Science’, basically.
Meanwhile, the high-throughput DNA sequencing (NGS) revolution was starting to spit out more and more genomes, with which I started to play around. So much so that by the time Naturalis started looking for a bioinformatician to contribute to the NGS projects that were going on over there I could plausibly apply for a position.
At Naturalis I’ve become involved in a lot of different projects, all of which have bioinformatics or computational biology in common but are otherwise very broad-ranging. I’ve had the good fortune to be able to work with many of the kinds of data, information and knowledge that circulate in a natural history museum. For example, apart from DNA I’m also analyzing image data from our specimen digitization efforts, scanned texts, and species traits and distributions.
On Twitter (@rvosa) I let out my interest in ‘unnatural history’. It’s a totally vague term that I’ve adopted to look at and talk about the cultural ways in which we interact with nature. I mean things like art about nature; the way we, biologists, do science about nature; how we as a species are colliding with biodiversity because of our actions. By the way, I later found out there’s also a book called ‘Unnatural History’. I haven’t read it but it looks neat and it looks like it’s partly about the same topic.

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.

17th April 2017 – Reeteka Sud, National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, India

Reeteka SudMy academic training has been in the field of Neuroscience. I have been in love with the brain since I was 13 I think. Watching a NatGeo documentary about the brain one Sunday afternoon proved really rather significant. This was long before I had any views about career for myself, let alone knowing the possibility of career in Neuroscience. It’s true what they say — for this day and age — “I watch, therefore I am”. So, that’s who I am — a neuroscientist.

Several beautiful chance encounters since watching the NatGeo documentary, I found myself doing PhD, in Neuroscience! Here, I studied the changes happening in brain during chronic pain; how drugs influence these changes when they do, and don’t, relieve pain. When I was a graduate student, the human genome was first mapped. I started thinking about what genes can, and cannot, do. My postdoc work then naturally was about targeting how genetic elements (not always functional genes, but DNA sequences within genome) are involved — in increasing chances of a disease, and how that aspect can be used to develop better treatments.

Along the way, I added ‘science communication’ and ‘integrating research and education’, as two other things I really care about (and therefore will tweet about during my time with Biotweeps 🙂

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.