24th April 2017 – Danielle Gilroy, Operation Wallacea

Danielle GilroyI am a terrestrial research and operations officer at Operation Wallacea, based in the UK with offices worldwide, and carrying out conservation research in 15 different countries. I oversee of all the forest-based research and am also the Senior Scientist for our largest forest site, Cusuco National Park in Honduras. My main research interests are centred in evolutionary biology and using a combination of molecular and ecological tools to investigate how evolution shapes diversity in populations. I have always strived to carry out research with real conservation applications and I am helping Operation Wallacea’s sister charity, the Operation Wallacea Trust, to make use of our large spatial and temporal datasets from sites around the world to lever funds to best establish conservation practice and work towards protecting particularly vulnerable and highly biodiverse ecosystems.

My PhD at the University of East Anglia focussed on a particular conservation success story, the Seychelles warbler (Acrocephalus sechellensis). This endemic island passerine was once down to just 25 individuals on a single island in the Seychelles archipelago in the 1980s, but has since recovered due to a combination of science research integrated with effective island management. There are now over 3000 birds across five islands, 115 times what it was over three decades ago and importantly, we have learnt a lot by using this species as a model of evolutionary study. My thesis looked at the causes and consequences of functional variation within the bottlenecked source population of Seychelles warbler. I investigated how variation at genes critical in innate immune defence could influence individual fitness and a bird’s ability to fight disease, mainly avian malaria, and considered the long-term viability of the species by assessing its genetic health and predicting future changes under natural selection.

During my week, I will focus on our work at Operation Wallacea and present to you our ongoing conservation research across our many terrestrial and marine sites. I will also talk about the importance of molecular ecology as a relatively new and quickly-growing field and as an ornithologist, will no doubt mention birds at every opportunity I can. On a similar note, I will no doubt mention my rescue staffy dog Tia who often accompanies me on my birding adventures.

9th January 2017 – Kelsey Byers, University of Zürich

kelsey-byers-2Hi everyone!  My name is Kelsey Byers; I’m currently finishing up my first postdoc at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.

I grew up in the northeastern United States near Boston and did my undergraduate degree in biology; the program was focused on molecular and cellular biology.  I decided after four years of that and a fifth year as a technician working on transcription factors that I wanted to shift to a more evolutionary focus, while maintaining molecular biology & genetics in my toolkit.  I moved out west to Seattle for a PhD at the University of Washington in the Department of Biology in evolutionary genetics and speciation with my PhD advisors H.D. “Toby” Bradshaw, Jr. and Jeff Riffell.

In my PhD I worked with flowers in the genus Mimulus (the monkeyflowers, family Phrymaceae) and their pollinators.  Two species of Mimulus, Mimulus lewisii and M. cardinalis, are in sympatry (grow together) in the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California.  Where they grow together, the main factor keeping them from hybridizing (the main reproductive isolation barrier) is pollinator choice – M. lewisii is pollinated by bumblebees, M. cardinalis by hummingbirds.  I was able to show with some experiments with hawkmoths that Mimulus lewisii produces floral scent, even though we can’t smell it (humans have very poor noses, as it happens, despite our response to coffee!).  It turns out that bumblebees respond very strongly to these weak scent compounds both neurologically and behaviorally.  I was able to work out the genetic basis of the species’ differences in floral scent compounds, and using transgenic plants in the greenhouse, I demonstrated that if you remove the most critical compound from M. lewisii, its bumblebee pollinators are less likely to visit it.

In August of 2014 I moved to Switzerland to work with Florian Schiestl and Philipp Schlueter on two species of alpine orchids in the genus Gymnadenia that are native to the Alps.  The two species are pretty closely related but look – and smell – really different!  Here I’m working less with speciation and am looking more at adaptation, focusing on two main projects. First, I’m looking at species differences in selection (including pollinator-mediated selection) on a large variety of floral traits in the field.  Second, I’m looking at the patterns of floral trait inheritance in hybrids in Gymnadenia – are they inherited as discrete ‘blocks’ of traits, or do hybrids align more closely to one parent or the other?

In the next few months I’ll be moving to the University of Cambridge to work on a postdoc with Chris Jiggins on speciation and reproductive isolation in Heliconius butterflies in Panama.  Although it’s a bit of a departure from my previous focus on plant-pollinator interactions, the broader concepts of chemical ecology, speciation genetics, and insect olfaction are very much at the center of my research work, so I’m very excited!

Feel free to ask anything and everything!  I’m excited to be here with Biotweeps!

18th July 2016 – Katherine James, Newcastle University

Katherine James.jpgI’m a Post-Doctoral bioinformatician working with the Centre for Bacterial Cell Biology (CBCB) and the Interdisciplinary Computing and Complex bioSystems (ICOS) research group at Newcastle University.  My research focuses on the large-scale integration of biological data in order to generate novel, testable hypotheses.

I originally studied Molecular Biology as an undergraduate at Newcastle but, due to a lack of jobs in the area at the time I graduated, I spent the next few years initially managing a pub and restaurant (great fun, poor pay), and then working as an administrator for the Civil Service (better pay, mind-numbingly boring).

Eventually my love of biology and computing science led me back to Newcastle to the, then relatively new, MRes Bioinformatics course. I subsequently stayed to do a PhD in Computing Science (during which I was lucky enough to be one of the first Computing Science PhDs in the UK to do laboratory work during my project).

As a Post-Doc I have worked on a diverse range of project; from data analysis to software and algorithm development, and involving yeast, human and bacterial data.  During my week on Biotweeps I primarily hope to describe how varied, interesting and novel bioinformatics research can be, but also discuss some of the practicalities of computational research, and the process of becoming an independent researcher (which I am currently in the initial stages of).

October 12th 2015 – Tuula Eriksson, University College London

Tuula ErikssonI am just about to finish a PhD in tissue-engineered 3D tumour models at University College London (UCL). I did my undergrad in Molecular Biology at the University of Glasgow, which is where I stumbled upon on-going work on regenerative medicine constructs and tissue engineering. Along the way, I also did placements on cancer biology, e.g. at the Wellcome trust in Oxford.

One of my lecturers also held a really interesting short workshop on advanced microscopy techniques (advanced for undergrads who’d at that point only got to use light microscopes in the labs).

Based on these three fun aspects of my degree, I then decided to apply for an MSc in Regenerative Medicine at UCL in London. This turned out to be one of the best things I did; a fresh change of scenery, new ideas by new lecturers and a very inspiring interdisciplinary atmosphere.

I ended up doing my six-month MSc research project in a lab in the Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering department, and the rest is, as they say, history.

My PhD research has involved developing two models for an oral jaw tumour called ameloblastoma. The tumour initially develops inside the jaw bone, is surgically removed, but often redevelops a few years later in the soft tissues surrounding the original site. My research has developed co-culture models of the tumour with both a soft-tissue scaffold and a bone-like scaffold to see what happens in the tumour, how the cells interact with each other, if there is an invasion happening, and what drugs we could potentially use to reduce the size of the tumour in the clinic.

I’m also interested in things like engineering, cell mechanotransduction, other types of tissue engineering and cells in general. Currently, I’m also interested in job opportunities in a tissue engineering lab, as I’ll need a post doc or job soon!

I tweet @tuulawoo, where my aim is to follow the 70:20:10 rule, where 70% of my tweets are work related (usually complaining about a microscope), 20% are other interesting stuff (running and cycling) and 10% are random (in my case, mostly dogs).

During my week on Biotweeps, I intend on discussing things like my research, the need for 3D models, tissue engineering concepts, writing, papers, supervisors, conferences, STEM, out-reach, and plenty more. Let the thesis writing procrastination commence!

October 4th 2015 – Leigh Nicholson, University of Sydney

Leigh NicholsonI am a PhD candidate in my second year at the University of Sydney, Australia. My project started off in reproductive biology; looking at different proteins and cellular properties that affect pregnancy and how that can improve IVF techniques. I have been sidetracked slightly since then and am now researching the same things but in cancer cell migration, specifically endometrial (uterine) cancer. The work that I am currently doing is looking at different protein amounts in cancer cells, comparing between normal, benign and malignant.
I will be tweeting about all these different areas, as well as other broad issues in science, like diversity and “scientific culture” problems!

June 8th 2015 – Joanne Kamens, Addgene

Joanne KamensJoanne Kamens is the Executive Director of Addgene, a mission driven, nonprofit dedicated to helping scientists around the world share plasmid reagents. Addgene has >40,000 plasmids from 2,200 labs around the world. Addgene also provides protocols and resources for molecular biologists at Addgene.org.

Joanne received her PhD in Genetics from Harvard Medical School then spent 15 years at BASF/Abbott, ultimately serving as Group Leader in Molecular Biology.  In 2007 she joined RXi Pharmaceuticals as Senior Director of Research Collaborations. Dr. Kamens has been raising awareness of women scientists and advocating for all types of diversity since 1998 upon realizing that an entire week had gone by at work and not one other woman had been at any meeting she attended. Dr. Kamens founded the current Boston chapter of the Association for Women in Science. Dr. Kamens was Director of the Boston Healthcare Businesswomens Association Mentoring Program for 3 years. She was recognized as one of the 2013 PharmaVoice 100 Most Inspiring and a Forty Over 40 Woman Making an Impact.  In 2010, Dr. Kamens was selected as a Fellow of the Massachusetts Academy of Science recognizing scientific accomplishment and service to the science community and the public.  She serves on a number of other nonprofit boards and speaks widely on career development topics in person and via Webinar.  Her career blogs can be found via Linked In or at blog.addgene.org.

May 04th 2015 – Stewart Barker, University of Sheffield

Stewart BarkerI am a first year PhD student working in the Department for Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, at the University of Sheffield, UK. Although I love all areas of science, my true passion is for the field of Microbiology. For my PhD I am investigating cell surface proteins of Gram positive bacteria. Much of my time involves using E. coli to try and express the proteins I am interested in. However as I am also trying to solve molecular structures, I get to use biophysical techniques such as Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, which is tough, but I really enjoy a challenge!

As an undergraduate, at Sheffield Hallam University, I carried out two short pieces of original research, both centred on the delivery of antibiotics related to orthopaedic surgery (particular joint replacements. As a result of this successful work, I have recently been published in a peer-reviewed journal as first author. This was a huge challenge and something I am very proud of! The paper can be found here: http://jac.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2014/10/16/jac.dku425.abstract

When I’m not researching, I am busy working as a science communicator, tweeting from my personal account @Stewart_Barker, and from the Society for Applied Microbiology’s (SfAM) account (@SfAMTweets). I also write a blog, MicrobeStew (https://microbestew.wordpress.com/), talking mainly about Microbiology, and also discussing issues in science and talking about careers, academia and science education. I also sit on the SfAM Postgraduate and Early Career Scientist committee, as their Communications Officer.

Please give my twitter account @Stewart_Barker a follow, have a look at my blog, and I look forward to talking to you all about my work and my experiences as an early career microbiology researcher.