23rd May 2016 – Sarah Knutie, University of South Florida

Sarah KnutieMy research spans both basic and applied ideas in conservation ecology, particularly with host-parasite systems.  My PhD dissertation was on the effect of an introduced parasitic nest fly on birds in the Galapagos and how birds defend themselves against this novel parasite.  I also established a method (‘self-fumigation’) for controlling the fly in bird nests. I am currently a post-doc in Jason Rohr’s lab at the University of South Florida where I am exploring the importance of the frog gut microbiota in the development of the immune system and subsequent parasite susceptibility.  Specifically, I am determining how the host microbiota mediates the effect of environmental stressors, such as pollution, on disease risk.  I am also working at Itasca Biological Station in northern Minnesota where I am exploring fundamental questions on the evolution of bird defenses against their parasites using a box-nesting bird-parasitic fly system.

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December 7th 2015 – Bill Sullivan, Indiana University School of Medicine

William SullivanHello, science enthusiasts! I am a Professor and Showalter Scholar at the Indiana University School of Medicine, where I study a protozoan (single-celled) parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. You may have heard about this fascinating “cat parasite” before – in addition to causing birth defects, and opportunistic infection in HIV/AIDS patients, the infection has been linked to neurological disorders such as schizophrenia and epilepsy. Amazingly, one third of the world is permanently infected with Toxoplasma, which is transmitted by cats or contaminated food/water. The parasite is presently incurable because it forms latent tissue cysts in the body, including the brain, that are not eliminated by our current drugs or the immune response. Since Toxoplasma camps out in the brain, a great deal of research has examined whether the infection alters host behavior. Remarkably, infected rodents lose their fear of cats and become sexually attracted to the smell of cat urine. This radical change in behavior transforms the infected rodent into an easy snack for the feline. From an evolutionary perspective, this is genius on the part of the parasite since it needs the cat to breed. But since Toxoplasma resides in the brains of billions of people, how might it be changing human behavior? I’ll be tweeting about Toxoplasma and other fascinating parasites that will make you think twice about the concept of free will!

You can learn more about Toxoplasma by reading, “Played by a Parasite”, a recent article we wrote for Scientific American. More information about my laboratory and our research can be found at our lab web site, www.sullivanlab.com.

I am also an advocate of science outreach and co-founded a popular science blog called THE ‘SCOPE in July 2014. The mission of THE ‘SCOPE is to use pop culture news and events as a springboard to discuss related topics in science. I have also written several articles for ASBMB Today, The Guardian, and The Posdoc Way, which contain career advice for young scientists – go here for a full list of my publications.

Follow me on Twitter.

August 10th 2015 – Ben Ashby, University of Exeter

Ben AshbyI am currently a postdoc at the University of Exeter (based in Falmouth, Cornwall), where I develop theory on the evolution of hosts and their parasites. I am especially interested in host-parasite coevolution (reciprocal adaptations) and the complex feedbacks that exist between ecological and evolutionary processes.

My research covers a wide range of topics, from the evolution of resistance, infectivity and virulence, to the evolution of sex, mating behaviour and sociality. Recently, I’ve been looking at ways to better integrate theory on ecology and evolution. I use mathematical models and simulations to understand how genetic (e.g. epistasis, specificity) and environmental factors (e.g. spatial structure, contact patterns) affect coevolutionary dynamics. While my own research is theoretical, I work closely with a number of empiricists to test theory.

This week I’ll be at the 2015 meeting of the European Society for Evolutionary Biology (#eseb2015) in Lausanne, Switzerland. I’ll be tweeting about the conference, along with snippets about my past, present and future work. You can also follow me on twitter: @bnashby.

August 3rd 2015 – Biotweeps first birthday! Featuring Anthony Caravaggi, Holly Kirk, Lauren Sakowski, Adam Hayward, and Vic Metcalfe

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An awesome microscope cake by Doughking.

Has it really been one year already? Apparently so.

If I’m entirely honest, when I decided to create Biotweeps, though I had ambitions for it to become a long-running science communication project, I had considerable doubts about whether it would get off the ground. I had put in a decent amount of groundwork with regards to promotion and contacting potential contributors, but I was still sceptical. Then people started signing up. The first few months were full within no time, and, as the schedule filled, I became more optimistic that it might – just might – reach its first birthday. It turns out that we made it, and comfortably at that.

The first year hasn’t been perfect, of course. There are numerous things that I, personally, could probably have done better. Fortunately, the feedback from contributors and followers has been overwhelmingly positive so perhaps I’m being too hard on myself. That said, expanding the international audience and getting contributors from other countries are high on my ‘to-do’ list (if you’d like to help out in this regard, please do get in touch), along with possibly starting one or two associated projects. But more on those in the fullness of time.

It behooves me, then, to thank all the contributors for taking the time to talk about their science and interests, and our followers, who grow in number on a daily basis. The project was conceived for you, and I’m so glad that you’re all making the most of it. Specific thanks to @CarinaDSLR for her support early-on, and @MCeeP and @smiffy for their contributions.

To celebrate our first birthday, we’re having a slightly different week, here on Biotweeps. Instead of one contributor, we have 5, one on each week day. You can read more about this weeks Biotweeps, below.

Thanks again for your support.
Anthony

Monday – Anthony Caravaggi, Queen’s University Belfast

Anthony Caravaggi 1I am a third-year PhD candidate at Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland, where I’m studying hares; more specifically, the invasive European hare (Lepus europaeus) and its potential impacts on the endemic Irish hare (L. timidus hibernicus). You can view the QUB project page here, or the project Facebook page, here. You can follow/contact me on Twitter at @thonoir, or via other social media which are linked on my website.

My research interests include invasive species ecology, population ecology, biodiversity conservation, community ecology, animal communication and behavioural ecology. I am a keen supporter of science communication and as such I am a UK STEM ambassador, founded the curated Twitter account Biotweeps, and took part in the outreach project I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here in 2013.

Tuesday – Holly Kirk, Oxford University

Holly KirkHolly is studying seabird migration and behavioural ecology. She has spent the last four years working with UK seabirds as part of her DPhil in the Department of Zoology, Oxford University. She uses a range of biologging methods (GPS, geolocation and TDR) to track the movement and behaviour of several seabird species, including puffins, razorbills, guillemots and kittiwakes.

Holly’s current work is on the migration behaviour of the Manx shearwater,Puffinus puffinus. The focus of her study is on how the timing and outcome of different parts of the annual cycle influence behaviour in subsequent years. For more information about her current work go tohttp://oxnav.zoo.ox.ac.uk/hollykirk

Wednesday – Lauren Sakowski, freelance writer (formerly of Nemours Biomedical Reasearch)

Lauren Sakowski

I attended Mount St. Mary’s University and University of Delaware and have a background in molecular biology and neuroscience. I began freelancing in the summer of 2014 and have been freelancing full time since the spring of 2015. My main area of interest is inflammation in the central nervous system and how it ties into neurological disorders (neurodegenerative diseases and depression/anxiety).

Thursday – Adam Hayward, University of Edinburgh

Adam HaywardI’m interested in understanding why animals of the same species seem to vary so much. Why are some bigger than others? Why do some live longer? Why are some so susceptible to infections? Is this variation due to genetic differences or variation in the environment? Animals have limited energy which they must divide between growing, reproducing, rearing offspring and immunity to parasites. These characteristics all affect the number of offspring they produce, and through natural selection, genetic variation in such characteristics leads to evolution. In wild populations, animals vary hugely in how  many parasites they harbour. I’m an evolutionary ecologist by training, and have spent time doing fieldwork on sheep on a remote Scottish island, and on elephants in the Burmese jungle. I find the struggle between parasites and their hosts absolutely fascinating, and the diversity of life-cycles that parasites have evolved truly  staggering. I’m looking forward to talking about how hosts and parasites are continually evolving to get on top and how studies in the wild can help us to understand these interactions better.

Friday – Vic Metcalf, Lincoln University

Victoria MetcalfI’m a marine biologist/geneticist living in New Zealand and mad keen on studying fish and shellfish. I am researching the effects of increases in temperature, ocean acidification and pollution because the effects of climate change are something we should all worry about. I’m also fascinated by epigenetics and the role of the microbiome. I work part-time, mum full-time and am also incredibly interested in the science of parenting.

I’m a very committed science communicator in the form of community and school/teacher presentations, social media, blogging, media articles and involvement in science festivals. I really want to excite the public about science, especially from a young age. You can find me on Twitter at @VicMetcalf_NZ, my parenting blog, Parenting by Instinct, and my science blog athttp://sciblogs.co.nz/icedoctor/

June 22nd 2015 – Tuomas Aivelo, University of Helsinki

Tuomas AiveloI am a PhD student in Institute of Biotechnology, University of Helsinki. Nevertheless, I consider myself foremost as evolutionary biology and my scientific work in mainly in parasitology and biology education.

For my PhD, I have been studying rufous mouse lemurs (Microcebus rufus) and their intestinal parasite dynamics. The nematodes are the most prevalent helminths they have, so I have been concentrating my efforts to identifying groups of nematodes and how they occur in mouse lemurs. Hopefully I can defend the thesis before the end of this year.

We have over a hundred microchipped mouse lemurs which we have been following for years in the wild in Ranomafana National Park, South-Eastern Madagascar.  As mouse lemurs are small, long-living and more or less territorial, we can follow the same individuals for many years. Thus, when we get fecal samples, we can follow the succession in intestinal nematode communities. This is not easy, though, put we have been using metabarcoding as our method of choice. In recent year, I have also expanded to microbiome studies.

I’m a qualified biology and philosophy teacher and also feel quite strongly about teaching. As a side project, I have been running a project on how Finnish upper secondary school students understand genetics. I have been analyzing textbooks and how done some surveys, but now I’m about to start interviewing teachers and students on how they understand gene and gene function.

For my twitter week, I plan to discuss all these themes and any other current issues coming up. I’ll also might dip into other interesting research going around at our research group, which is mostly about evo-devo and teeth.

For Finnish-speaking audience, I keep blog in Finnish popular science magazine Tiede: http://www.tiede.fi/alue/kaiken_takana_on_loinen
You can follow me in twitter @aivelo: https://twitter.com/aivelo
and can find me in Google Scholar http://scholar.google.ca/citations?user=KpjWh_0AAAAJ&hl=en
and ResearchGate  https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Tuomas_Aivelo

May 25th 2015 – Andrew Walker, University of Oxford

Andrew WalkerAfter dabbling in the more quantitative elements of Biology at Leeds, I popped into Warwick to do a one year Masters in Systems Biology, before finding myself undertaking a PhD with the Evolutionary Ecology of Infectious Disease (@EEID_oxford) unit in Oxford, where I’ve gone full computational.

My research interests centre on malaria vaccine research. Many decades of work have gone into combatting this ancient scourge, with tools developed that have saved lives across the world: none, however, have as yet proved sufficient to eliminate. One focus of my interest is this: perhaps we can have a decent shot at elimination by carefully using a combination of the tools we already have available.

I use a mixture of mathematical modelling of within host dynamics and bioinformatic analysis of parasite genome sequences to answer interesting questions about the biology of malaria parasites. Malaria has been with us since for many thousands of years, and so the relationships between it and our immune systems are complex. Some of my work aims to uncover the evolutionary imprints of these interactions on the antigenic sequences of parasites.

During my Biotweeps week I’ll be tweeting about disease, evolution, science communication, and probably some general other nerdy stuff. Do get in touch – I’ll try my best to answer questions! My regular twitter account is @Andy_Walker.

September 1st 2014 – Adam Hayward, University of Edinburgh

Adam HaywardI’m interested in understanding why animals of the same species seem to vary so much. Why are some bigger than others? Why do some live longer? Why are some so susceptible to infections? Is this variation due to genetic differences or variation in the environment? Animals have limited energy which they must divide between growing, reproducing, rearing offspring and immunity to parasites. These characteristics all affect the number of offspring they produce, and through natural selection, genetic variation in such characteristics leads to evolution. In wild populations, animals vary hugely in how  many parasites they harbour. My favourite question right now is: what determines how big a parasite infection an animal gets, and how badly that infection affects them? I’m an evolutionary ecologist by training, and have spent time doing fieldwork on sheep on a remote Scottish island, and on elephants in the Burmese jungle. I find the struggle between parasites and their hosts absolutely fascinating, and the diversity of life-cycles that parasites have evolved truly  staggering. I’m looking forward to talking about how hosts and parasites are continually evolving to get on top and how studies in the wild can help us to understand these interactions better.