22nd May 2017 – Seth Barribeau, University of Liverpool

I’m an evolutionary ecologist who largely works on understanding how insects are able to do complicated things with what is generally considered a ‘simple’ immune system. Spoiler: it’s not that simple. I am fond of most animals, with the noticeable exceptions of ostriches (they have cruel, dead, eyes) and locusts (a childhood incident). I started out studying the what predisposes tadpoles to infection as a graduate student in New Zealand, and after a brief stint catching snakes, teaching English, and proof reading medical articles in Japan, moved on to studying aphids and fungus-growing ants at Emory University, and then bumblebees at the ETH in Zürich. After studying and postdoc-ing in several countries I recently started a position as the lecturer for eco-immunology at the Institute of Integrative Biology at the University of Liverpool.
My recent research has explored why aphids have a pretty rubbish immune system, why the costs of mounting an immune response differ among individuals, how diet influences the expression of immunity, how bumblebees respond differently to different genotypes of a common parasite, what makes immune memory, what does sociality do to the evolution of the immune system, and, most importantly, was Marvin Gaye right? Is there such a thing as sexual healing?

15th May 2017 – Melissa Marquez, T he Fins United Initiative

Melissa MarquezA proud #LatinainSTEM, Melissa C. Marquez is a marine biologist who focuses on shark habitat use and movements. She recently completed a Master of Science degree looking into habitat use, preference and defining key Chondrichthyan (shark, skate, ray, and chimaera) life history stages. Melissa has also been on a handful of professional discussion panels and spoken at numerous conferences to discuss her research and outreach.
 
The author of three kid books, Marquez is also a dedicated science communicator who focuses on diverse Chondrichthyan education and on the media coverage of sharks. She is the founder of The Fins United Initiative (www.finsunited.co.nz) and has presented to over 10,000 kids, students, and adults about Chondrichthyan biology, ecology, and conservation since its inception. 
 
Originally hailing from San Juan, Puerto Rico, she has moved around the world with her family and to pursue her studies. She is currently living in Wellington, New Zealand and looking worldwide for a PhD opportunity that allows her to understand shark migratory behaviour (why sharks are where they are). You can learn more about her research and qualifications on her website (melissacristinamarquez.weebly.com). 

8th May 2017 – Vicki Tough, Sylvana Alta Ltd

Vicki ToughForest canopies provide some of the highest levels of biodiversity on the planet. They offer huge potential for research and exploration; however, accessing the high canopy continues to be an obstacle for scientists and researchers wishing to work in these areas. For the last nine years I have worked as a professional climber and abseiler, organising, leading and participating in research expeditions around the world. My focus is on canopy science and the technical methods required to reach high into the treetops.

My increasing interest in the these environments and their flora and fauna was first sparked during the remote rainforest research I undertook in the Ecuadorian Amazon during my Zoology degree at The University of Glasgow. Once graduated, I began work as a tree climbing instructor and industrial abseiler, switching between the botanical and concrete jungles of the world; learning how ropes and rigging can be used to experience, work and explore places at height. Working in these contrasting environments has given me an appreciation and understanding of a range of technical rigging solutions, as well as the importance of teamwork in often challenging conditions.

My current interests lie predominantly within forests, working to develop canopy research projects and assisting scientists in working at height in the tree tops. Advancements in equipment and technical knowledge over the past fifty years have opened up opportunities not only to access, but also to work safely and efficiently in these environments. I aim to bridge the gap between scientific research and working at height by combining these disciplines to develop successful climbing practices for research in forests around the world.

During my curatorial week I will be sharing tales of tree climbing expeditions whilst detailing the highs and lows of practical fieldwork in the treetops. For more information about the work I’m involved in, please take a look at my website www.sylvanaalta.com.  I look forward to talking with you all!

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.

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.

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 🙂