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.

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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.

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!