Scientists peer at the inner clock

Circadian clocks are found across all higher species, controlling daily rhythms of behaviour and physiology. The clocks are thought to tick by the continuous creation and degradation of clock proteins in a 24 hour cycle. The principle clock in humans is the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) which is governed by Period genes (Per1, Per2).

Recent research by The University of Manchester and The University of Cambridge has dispelled the previous theory that in mammals Per 2 is let in to the cell nucleus by a ‘gate’ from the outer cytoplasm. Previous studies in fruit flies had shown that Per2 builds up in the cytoplasm until it reaches a critical level at which point the gate would open, allowing it to enter the nucleus.

It is this movement from cytoplasm to nucleus that dictates the tempo of the fly’s body clock.

According to Professor Andrew Loudon from The University of Manchester, this gated mechanism found in flies does not happen in mammals. Instead, the protein moves from the cytoplasm to the nucleus straight away.

Professor Loudon said:

“We have discovered that the level of the per2 builds up in the nucleus and it is this build-up of protein that gives the clock its rhythm.

 

This is an important advancement in  our understanding of the body clock at the cellular level.

 

As new insights into how our body clocks function are discovered, drugs are being developed which will  effectively target the mechanism responsible for circadian imbalances.

 

We think that this non-gated system is likely to be susceptible to drug intervention – but clearly more work is needed on that front.”

Disorders of the circadian clock, ranging from jet-lag, through shift-work to sleep disorders associated with ageing, dementia and psychiatric illness have a major impact on our health.  This work went on to show how particular drugs affect the behaviour of the clock proteins and could provide a first approach to developing suitable therapeutics to treat sleep disorders.


The work was funded by the MRC and BBSRC.

Further references:

Andrew Loudon’s group page

Michael’s Group page

 

Brain Box event wows Manchester

Manchester Town City Hall was packed full of thousands of visitors when they dropped in on The Brain Box event on Sunday, as part of Manchester Day.

Over 5000 people of all ages explored the exciting science of the brain with scientists from across the region as well as experiencing brain-inspired arts in the form of images, poetry and dance.

The day was a unique collaboration between the city’s three universities: The University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University and Salford University as well as Manchester City Council, MoSI, NHS Trusts, patient groups and artists, with even a float from Manchester Day parade joining the event.

The Manchester Day celebrations recognise the achievements of Manchester as a city every year and this year, to coincide with Manchester being European City of Science, the theme of the day was Eureka!

Professor Andreas Prokop from the University of Manchester and one of the main organisers of the event said:

“The Brain Box event is an important way for us, as scientists, to engage with our community, and to inspire young and old with the incredible science that happens in our city.”

An popular activity was a giant wooden sculpture of the brain, wired up by visitors throughout the day with thousands of pieces of string to reflect the complexity of the real brain’s many billions of connections.

A time-lapse film of the brain sculpture gaining it’s new connections over the course of the day will be posted soon on The Brain Box website.

The film will also be showcased at the British Pavilion in Rio at the Olympic Games illustrated the complexity of the brain’s electrical connections.

With more than 50 stands manned by over 200 volunteers, focussing on all different aspects of the brain – including the basics, vision, pain, history, learning, brain imaging and what happens when the brain goes wrong – the Brain Box provided a unique experience for the visitor.

In the historic city chambers, visitors to the event were treated to a series of talks on subjects ranging from history of our understanding of the brain to cutting edge brain-imaging technologies.

Professor Stuart Allan, another of the event’s main organisers added:

“We were delighted with how the Brain Box went: it was a huge success and everyone went home with a smile on their face.”

For a full story, check out the Storify.

Manchester Day’s BRAIN BOX will make you shout EUREKA

Manchester Town Hall will become the city’s largest laboratory as scientists from across the city join forces for Manchester Day’s Brain Box attraction.

During the town hall takeover, collaborators from the city’s universities, museums and other societies and associations, will take Manchester Day visitors on a fascinating journey through the brain.

This year’s Manchester Day theme – EUREKA! – celebrates the city’s history of scientific discovery in a year when Manchester is name European City of Science 2016.

The Brainbox scientists will perform lively experiments throughout Manchester Day on Sunday, 19 June, in a hands-on, participatory journey of discovery that will create countless EUREKA! moments.

The exhibitions, which will spread throughout the first floor of the historic town hall building, will cover eight themes from the basics of the brain, vision, pain and disease to brain imaging, how we learn, the history of brain research and the fascinating links between the arts and the brain.

Try your hand at brain surgery – on an egg! Observe how flies get tipsy… travel through the mind with modern brain mapping…and see the gruesome history of brain medicine, amongst many other fascinating activities for young and old alike.

Brain Box will run alongside the Manchester Day celebration from 10am until 6pm (Manchester Day itself begins at midday) – and look out for Albot², time travelling robot, who will be making regular visits throughout the day.

Be sure to follow her twitter page @manc_day as she travels to meet scientists throughout time and follow the conversation using #MCRday and #mcrbrainbox

The Brain Box has been curated by Professor Andreas Prokop and Professor Stuart Allan from The University of Manchester.

Professor Prokop said:

“Seeing so many scientists, clinicians, creative practitioners and artists joining forces to invite the public and celebrate and explore the fascination and wonders of the brain, on this unique day, in this unique year and in this unique location, is a dream come true – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for everybody!”

Cllr Pat Karney, Chair of Manchester Day, said:

“Not content with taking over the whole of the city centre and transforming it into the UK’s biggest open air theatre, we’ve now taken over the town hall as well.

There will be something for all the family, so make sure to pop in. It will be a fascinating part of Manchester Day with some of the city’s best minds explaining how the minds work.”


The Brain Box is a collaboration between many contributors, including: Manchester City Council, The University of Manchester, Salford University, Manchester Metropolitan University, Museum of Science and Industry, Stroke Association, Alzheimer’s Research UK, Alzheimer’s Society, Parkinson’s UK, MND Association, National Autistic Society, Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, The University of Liverpool, The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust, University of York, Seal Medical, Seal Medical Supplies, b-neuro, Medtronic, Access Dance, Dance Company Combination and others artists. The Brain Box is also funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Physiological Society.

For more information about Brain Box visit: https://mcrbrainbox.wordpress.com/

Manchester Day will take place on Sunday, 19 June from midday until 6pm.

The parade begins from Liverpool Road at 1pm.

Manchester Day is created by Manchester People, commissioned by Manchester City Council and produced by Walk the Plank.

Academics scoop top prizes at Student Union Teaching Awards

Five Faculty lecturers have received awards for their work with students. The awards are given in recognition of an individual’s commitment to providing the best possible teaching to students across the University.

The Faculty won the ‘Best Supervisor’ for Undergraduate, Post-Graduate Taught and Post-Graduate research education at this year’s Student Union teaching awards. Additionally, two academics picked up awards for Best Lecturer within FLS and The Award for Fantastic Feedback. The Faculty is proud to be so highly commended right across the University.

The Faculty has a track record of teaching excellence – continuously scoring highly on national rankings. Just this past year, the Faculty received a mark of 92% for student satisfaction in the National Student Survey.

Michelle Keown, the winner of the ‘Fantastic Feedback’ award said:

“I was really delighted to win this award as it is such a positive reflection on how our students are engaging with the feedback process. Being able to provide not only timely constructive feedback but also various feedback opportunities and activities is such an important part of my role as a teacher. Feedback can obviously help improve a student’s understanding but also and equally as important their confidence and enthusiasm for learning.”

On receiving the award for Best PGT supervisor at the University, Keith White said

“I am flattered and gratified upon receiving the award and I would like to thank all the students and others involved. Probably the most satisfying and rewarding aspect of my job as an academic is to be in a position to assist students in achieving their career objectives, whatever these may be.  The overwhelming majority of students on the environmental Master’s courses that I have coordinated and taught have gone on to careers in the public sector, industry, academia, teaching and environmental consultancy, and I am pleased to have been able to contribute to their success.”

Sheena Cruickshank, winner of the best PGR supervisor at the University, added

“I feel extremely honoured to have been both nominated and awarded this award. It means such a lot coming from the students in my lab with whom I work every day “

On receiving the award for Best Lecturer in FLS, Simone Tuchetti said:

“It was absolutely fantastic to receive the award especially given that I am relatively new to the faculty’s teaching staff. This really meant a lot to me mainly because the students’ comments suggest that they appreciated my efforts to innovating teaching, raising awareness about today’s climate change issues and explaining why the past matters when we seek to understand them.”

Finally, Undergraduate supervisor of the year, Ian Burney said:

“I’m delighted to have been named as the Student Union’s undergraduate supervisor of the year. Supervising final year projects is great because it enables student and teacher to bond over their shared interest in a topic. The process is not always easy, and there’s often a steep learning curve to be negotiated. But when a project comes good, and a student recognises something new and exciting about their skills and potential as a maker of knowledge, it’s a real joy.”

University praised at the BBSRC award ceremony

The University of Manchester was recently a finalist at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) Excellent with Impact awards and was awarded two special commendations for demonstrating outstanding practice in particular areas. The University of Manchester was awarded the two special commendations for our outreach in collaboration with the Manchester Museum and effectively embedding impact across our staff development programmes.

The awards looked to “recognise institutions that can develop and successfully deliver a vision for maximising impact, alongside a relevant institution-wide culture change” and so The University is extremely proud to be commended in such a way.

The BBSRC is the largest biology funding body in the UK and they support over 3,500 scientists in the UK.  The University has a large number of BBSRC-funded lab groups performing cutting edge research across all its Faculties. Our commendations and presence in the finals recognise the importance our groups place on research that has a real impact and is setting a culture of excellence.

unspecified
Representatives from the Manchester team at the BBSRC: Karen Lewis (BBSRC Executive Team), Simon Hubbard, Lauren Tempelman,  Amanda Bamford, Luke Georghiou. Photo by Joel Knight

The BBSRC judges were particularly impressed with our Museum outreach, highlighting the ‘Learning with Lucy’ frog conservation and education programme. Working with the Manchester Museum, the Faculty teamed up with Lucy, a nine year old girl on a mission to save the Lemur Leaf frog. The project was a huge success, reaching international coverage and having an impact in helping to save one of the world’s rarest frogs.

Professor Amanda Bamford says

” I am really pleased the judges were impressed with the education and outreach work we do with Manchester Museum. We have a very long standing, successful and unique collaboration with the Museum staff delivering outstanding impact”

In addition, two University scientists, Dr Sheena Cruickshank and Dr Andrew Almond, were finalist for BBSRC Innovator of the Year this year.  Innovator of the Year “celebrates individuals and small teams who have harnessed the potential of their excellent research to help address real world challenges”.

Professor Simon Hubbard, one of the leaders of the University competition bid, says

During the course of this three year competition the University has made great strides in embedding an impact culture into its staff and students, in all areas from business development through to social responsibility. I am thrilled that the BBSRC recognised this and chose us as one of the 10 finalists. We were the only institution to have two nominees for Innovator of the Year and were rightly recognised with two commendations for our impact success.

 

Dino jaws: Stegosaurs bite strength revealed

The first detailed study of a Stegosaurus skull shows that it had a stronger bite than its small peg-shaped teeth suggested. The Natural History Museum’sStegosaurus specimen, ‘Sophie’, has been compared with two plant-eating dinosaurs with similar skulls:Plateosaurus and Erlikosaurus.

All three had a large low snout and a scissor-like jaw action that moved up and down. Using computer modelling a team of scientists from Bristol, London, Manchester and Birmingham, including Charlotte Brassey from The University of Manchester, has shown these dinosaurs had different biting abilities.

As Prof Paul Barrett, dinosaur researcher at the Natural History Museum explains: “Far from being feeble, as usually thought, Stegosaurus actually had a bite force within the range of living herbivorous mammals, such as sheep and cows.”

The finding means that scientists need to reconsider how Stegosaurus fitted into its ecological niche. For example it may have had a role in spreading the seeds of woody evergreen cycads.

Stegosaurus lived around 150 million years ago and needed to eat a lot of plants to sustain its large size. As grasses did not exist then, it would have fed on plants such as ferns and horsetails.

As Barrett, leader of the research team, comments: “Our key finding really surprised us: we expected that many of these dinosaur herbivores would have skulls that worked in broadly similar ways. Instead we found that even though the skulls were fairly similar to each other in overall shape, the way they worked during biting was substantially different in each case.”

Lead author Dr Stephan Lautenschlager, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences, employed digital models and computer simulations to analyse the dinosaurs’ bites, using data from 3D scans of the skulls and lower jaws. He used engineering software to give the skulls the material properties that would match as closely as possible to the real thing, for example, using data on crocodile teeth to model those of the dinosaurs.

By attaching muscles to the models, he was able to examine the forces that the jaws could produce and the subsequent stresses on the skulls.

As computer power increases and software becomes more available, Lautenschlager thinks that we will see more modelling used in dinosaur research: “Using computer modelling techniques, we were able to reconstruct muscle and bite forces very accurately for the different dinosaurs in our study. As a result, these methods give us new and detailed insights into dinosaur biology – something that would not have been possible several years ago.”


Further images are available at  https://nhm.box.com/s/fnaf66vdo8bbrekfilwu3b7di8q327zf Please note: images are for single use only to illustrate this press release and are not to be archived.All images © Stephan Lautenschlager

Original PublicationLautenschlager, S., Brassey, C. A., Button, D. J., Barrett, P. M. Decoupled form and function in disparate herbivorous dinosaur clades. Sci. Rep. 6, 26495; doi:10.1038/srep26495 (2016)

Behind-the-scenes at Cancer Research UK

We can send a man to the moon, so why can’t we beat cancer?

Just a few years ago, we at last reached the point where half of all people diagnosed with cancer could expect to survive it. Within 20 years, scientists hope that figure will rise even further to 3 in 4 people.

Reaching these milestones does not happen easily. It is the culmination of years of research by thousands of scientists around the world, working in fields as diverse as genetics, pharmacology and biochemistry – as well as medicine.

Much of this research takes place here in Manchester. In fact, cancer is one of The University of Manchester’s five main ‘research beacons’ – priority research areas in which we are world leaders – the others being industrial biotechnology, advanced materials, energy and addressing global inequalities.

Beyond the main university campus, we also have the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, situated over the road from the Christie Hospital in Withington, south Manchester. Their brand new £28.5 million building opened its doors last year, and is jointly funded by The University of Manchester, The Christie NHS Foundation Trust and Cancer Research UK.

Cancer Research UK is the world’s largest independent cancer research charity, and funds and conducts research into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of the disease. Its work is almost entirely funded by donations from the public.

The Christie Hospital is one of Europe’s leading centres for cancer treatment and research, treating over 40,000 patients a year, and around 400 early phase clinical trials are taking place here at any one time. This makes The Christie an ideal next-door-neighbour for the new Cancer Research UK Institute.

Research in places like Manchester has vastly improved our knowledge of cancer and how we can treat it over the past decades. The discovery of epigenetics has shone a new light on the different ways this disease can arise, while genome sequencing has given us new and highly effective methods of diagnosis, allowing us to accurately tailor treatments to each individual’s needs.

There’s still such a long way to go however.

Cancer is not one disease nor one hundred diseases but many thousands, each unique and requiring a different response. Such a diverse assortment of diseases is only possible because the body itself is so diverse.

37 trillion cells, and 10,000,000 components per cell make the body 125 billion times more complicated than the Saturn Rockets that allowed humans to go to the Moon. It is only when we consider this staggering complexity that we can begin to appreciate the immense challenge we face in trying to treat the numerous different types of cancer.

2333main_MM_Image_Feature_19_rs4
© NASA

 

 

Cell division and inflammatory disease link revealed

A ground-breaking study by scientists from the Faculty of Life Sciences and The University of Liverpool scientists has been published in the journal eLife and has identified a new link between inflammation and cell division.

Two of the most important processes in the human body, their accurate control is a holy grail for scientists researching the prevention of infection, inflammatory disease and cancer.

Professor Mike White, who led the BBSRC-funded research and investigates how cells adapt to signals in the body, hit upon the discovery using advanced microscopy and mathematical modelling at the University of Manchester’s world-leading systems microscopy centre and the University of Liverpool’s Centre for Cell Imaging.

“This is an exciting discovery: for the first time we find a link between the system which regulates how cells divide and the basis of some of medicine’s most intractable diseases,” he said.

Inflammatory signals produced by a wound or during an infection can activate a protein called Nuclear Factor-kappaB (NF-κB), which controls the activity of genes that allow cells to adapt to the situation.

Incorrect control of NF-κB is associated with inflammatory diseases, such as Crohn’s disease, psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis; it has also been linked with ageing and some cancers.

A key way in which human cells adapt to signals in their environment is by dividing to produce new cells through a repeating pattern of events, called the cell cycle. A cell first makes copies of its DNA, in a stage known as the DNA synthesis phase, and then divides into two daughter cells.

The cell cycle is controlled by a family of proteins called E2 factors, which control the start of the new cell’s DNA synthesis phase.

In the eLife study, the team showed that the NF-κB and E2 factors bind to each other in the cell. This controls the level of the NF–κB signal, which is enhanced just before DNA synthesis, but reduced during the DNA synthesis phase.

They also show that signals which activate NF-κB can change the timing of cell division.

The findings suggest that direct interactions between E2 factor proteins and NF-κB enable cells to decide whether to divide and determine how they react in different ways to inflammatory signals.

The work used a set of mathematical equations to make predictions about cell responses, which were then tested by experiments and shown to be correct.

Professor White added:

“We are particularly proud of our combination of maths and experimentation. This is due to the strong support from BBSRC for the area of systems biology and the work of a dedicated team of scientists from different disciplines.”


The paper, Dynamic NF-κB and E2 interactions control the priority and timing of inflammatory signalling and cell proliferation is available. It is available on the eLife website

Manchester gets the science bug

University scientists are celebrating their best ever annual community Open day which took place last weekend.

The team welcomed hundreds of people from across the city, keen to see where some of the country’s leading life scientists work.

Highlights included coding a Superhero, making DNA cookies, £1m robots, touring the labs, maggot painting and seed planting.

One family wrote to the University, thanking the team for an ‘amazing’ event, praising them for giving the opportunity to show children from local communities what the inside of a University looks like and hiow researchers work.

The free event was held in the Michael Smith Building at the heart of the University campus.

Also on display were creepy crawlies and microbes, insects and amphibians.

Organiser Natalie Liddle said:

“We were absolutely delighted with the turnout which made all the hard work worthwhile.

“It’s so special to be able to open our doors to the public, so they can see what we do and learn about the research we carry out.

“Our mission is to inspire- as well as entertain – to get the message across that a career in science is achievable for people in so many different walks of life.”

First Year Biologists Reach Out to the Community

A major part of the Semester 2 Biology tutorials involves a group project where our first year students work together on a project that brings biological science to the local community. This allows the students to engage actively in science-based activities within the local community while developing team-working, project-management and problem-solving skills. On May 9, 2016, a symposium was held where each first year biology tutorial group presented their projects to each other and to an elite panel of Faculty of Life Sciences judges – Professor Matthew Cobb (Professor of Zoology), Professor Cathy McCrohan (Professor of Comparative Neurobiology), Professor Liz Sheffield (Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning) and Mr Rory Beresford (Final year Biology Student Representative on the Student-Staff Liaison Committee).

More than 75 students took part in the 2 hour event which highlighted the scope, diligence and imagination involved in bringing biology to the local community.  Students worked as tutorial groups to raise funds and awareness through cake sales, informative leaflets, and by setting up information stands in the Stopford, the Student Union and at events like Just Fest 2016.  Through these activities they supported diverse topics such as Manchester’s bees, Food Waste, Blood Donation, and the Christie’s hospital.  Others laboured to improve the environment by clearing allotments, planting pumpkin patches and building composters with local/University organizations like Hulme Garden Centre.  Others work on upland restoration by planting sphagnum moss.  Groups also worked to raise awareness about the benefits or organic farming and the lack of composting on the University campus.

The overall winner of the day was a group of students from our Associate Dean for Social Responsibility, Prof Amanda Bamford’s tutorial group who raised awareness of the thermoregulatory issues neonates face (see photo).  Their campaign, ‘knit for neonates’ reached out to the wider community and encouraged people to knit hats to cover the heads of these tiny babies to prevent heat loss.  By engaging retired members of the public (who arguably had the best knitting skills) , they also helped reduce the social isolation felt by many seniors.  Together, with the help of Stopford Reception staff and other knitters,  they collected 917 knitted caps for St Mary’s hospital!  They plan to continue the initiative and encourage their world-wide team of knitters to make blankets as well as little hats.  Members of this winning team were each presented with an award (High Street Gift Certificates worth £20) by Professor Liz Sheffield.

An honourable mention went to Dr Ron Burke’s tutorial group who decided to tackle the disengagement many youngsters have for science.  They researched schools and curriculums and then developed an engaging and informative series of activities to enthuse students in Science.  They spent a day during National Science Week in a local school with students in the final year of primary.  Their aim was to make pupils consider science as a subject and also as a career when they moved schools next year.  Upon presenting the awards Professor Liz Sheffield remarked that “it was fantastic to see the resourceful and imaginative ways our students brought science to the community.  Many of the projects will have a lasting legacy”. The event was rounded off with a pizza party for the students, Advisors and Judges who deserved both praise and pizza for their hard work!

blog picture

Photo of the judges and the winning group ‘Knit for Neonate’.  From Left to Right: Cathy McCrohan, Rory Beresford, Matthew Cobb, back row: Cam Brough, Rowena Seaton Kelly, Kira Pattinson, Kath Bailey; front row: Jenny Capel, Lucy Helas, Amanda Bamford, Ffion Hall, Rachel Sparrow, Ben Williams and Liz Sheffield.


Article by Biology Programme Director Holly Shiels

FLS research 2016

Manchester Life Scientists

The academic year 2015-16 is drawing closer to an end, and it’s been another great year for the Faculty.  We thought it would be nice to have a reminder of some the research that has come out of the Faculty this year so far. After all, what better year is there to do it than 2016? – When Manchester is named European City of Science. From all the positive research outcomes of the Faculty this year, it’s certain that this has helped Manchester live up to this name!

2016 started off with a paper published by FLS scientists which showed that there are genetic variants in offspring that can affect the quality of maternal behaviour. The trials for this study consisted of mice families with genetically variable mothers and genetically uniform offspring, and vice versa.

Dr Reinmar Hager, the senior author on the paper, told us how this research is…

View original post 1,875 more words

Go red to crack the confidence blues

A new book developed by a University of Manchester expert could be a boost for Brits who suffer from poor confidence.

Davina Whitnall, a skills trainer, says the often hidden problem can cause misery at home and in the workplace for millions of people at some stage in their lives.

After studying the problem for 6 years , Ms Whitnall has devised a 90-page guide, based on her work with PhD students called Confidence ketchup: pour on the confidence condiment.

By examining survey data between 2011 and 2015, the trainer identified how confidence was a recurring theme not only for many post graduates, but for the public as a whole.

And working through the book, she argues, will give readers a noticeable-  and measurable – confidence boost through motivation and support.

She said:

“It’s surprising the sort of people who are affected by confidence: journalists, for example can be confident at work, but not in other contexts.

“Indeed, poor confidence has long been a problem for many; over recent years, the political spotlight on mental health and stress has meant that we are becoming more open about it.”

She added:

“The method I have developed is unusual in that it’s very quick to learn, uses a system of self-measurement and teaches you to isolate confidence from the social stigma of low competence.

“There are plenty of competent people out there who are being held back from achieving because they lack confidence.

“Confidence enhances an individual like ketchup – hence the name or the book. The more you practice being confident, the better you get at it: if you do think this is a problem for you, maybe it’s now time to think about changing.”


To try out one of  confidence needs analysis contained in the book, visit:

Confidence ketchup is published by www.whammypress.com  and is available at Blackwell’s, Amazon, Davinawhitnall.co.uk/books

Manchester scientists recognised with Academy Fellowship

Two scientists from The University of Manchester have been elected to the prestigious Fellowship of the Academy of Medical Sciences.

Judith Allen, Professor of Immunobiology and Graeme Black, Professor of Genetics and Ophthalmology and  Deputy Director, Biomedical Research Centre will join 45 other UK researchers who have been elected to the renowned body.

The Fellows have been elected for their contribution to medical research and healthcare, the generation of new knowledge in medical sciences and its translation into benefits to society.

This year’s elected Fellows have expertise that spans paediatrics, genetics, neuroscience and oncology among many.

13 of the new Fellows are women, representing 28% of the total elected in 2016. The total women in the pool of candidates was 25%.

Graeme Black said:

“It is an honour to be elected: my work focuses on understanding the molecular basis of rare inherited conditions associated with blindness and aims to improve the diagnosis, management and treatment of such conditions.

Such a recognition is a reflection of the fact that this is a scientific area that has seen huge progress over recent years, including work done in the University of Manchester and within St Mary’s and the Manchester Royal Eye Hospitals.

Consequently this also underlines the hope there is that further progress can be made, here and elsewhere, to build on such foundations.”

 

Judith Allen said

“I am honoured that the academy of medical sciences has chosen to recognise my contributions to parasite immunology and macrophage biology.

I very much looking forward to working with the academy, particularly on their efforts to support and recognise the value of teams in science.”

 

Professor Sir Robert Lechler PMedSci, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences said:

“These new Fellows represent the amazing diversity of talent and expertise among the UK medical research community. Through their election to the  Fellowship, we recognise the outstanding contributions these individuals have made to the progress of medical science and the development of better healthcare.

“Thanks to the experience and expertise of its Fellows, the Academy can play a crucial role in addressing the great medical challenges of our time, such as maintaining health in an ageing population, the spread of non-communicable diseases and multiple morbidities.

“We work with our Fellowship to create the essential connections between academia, industry and the NHS and beyond, to strengthen biomedical research and facilitate its translation into benefits for society.

“We are delighted to welcome this year’s new Fellows to the Academy and I look forward to working with them all in the future.”

The new Fellows will be formally admitted to the Academy at a ceremony on the 29th June 2016.

Tuesday Feature Episode 40: Andrew Almond

This week we are featuring Dr Andrew Almond who was recently nominated for the BBSRC innovator of the year award. Find out why by reading this Tuesday Feature.


 

Please explain your research to the general public in about ten sentences or less.

Our research is focussed on understanding the biological function of sugars. Sugars are a major calorific component of food but can also be fibrous structural materials that hold cells together. In plants the major structural material is cellulose, which binds cells and gives physical strength. In humans more complex proteoglycans, which are present between every cell throughout the body, are the basis of a similarly-functioning glue-like material. This glue, or extracellular matrix, can have many forms and functions, such as rigid bone, shock absorbing cartilage, elastic heart valves and the complex structure of the brain. Proteoglycans are rich in large sugar polymers, which absorb water and salts, allowing our bodies to maintain their physical condition and hydration.

We have pioneered research aimed at resolving the microscopic configuration of the sugar polymers from proteoglycans, in order to understand their function and to aid development of synthetic biocompatible materials. This has involved detailed computational modelling and state-of-the-art experimental techniques to test the computer models. Due to the complexity of the sugars polymers and their close interaction with water, we have had to employ very fast computers and novel algorithms to study them; we pioneered the application of ultra-parallel graphics processing units (GPUs) to this problem (initially invented to meet the very intensive processing required for realistic action in video games).

How does your research benefit the general public?

Our basic scientific research is aiding development of novel biocompatible materials that can be used in transplants, prostheses and medical devices. The new discoveries that we are making could also pave the way for new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Another aspect of our research is the technology that we develop. One piece of technology, directed toward accurately measuring the microscopic shape of drugs, was spun out of The University of Manchester into the start up company C4XDiscovery.

C4XDiscovery is focused on optimising the design and development of medicines and partnering with the pharmaceutical sector to generate better, safer products. C4XDiscovery was listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2014, valuing the Company at £31m. The Company is located in central Manchester and has over 20 highly-qualified employees. It is applying its technology to discover new drugs to treat addiction, diabetes and chronic inflammation and taking them through to clinical trials in partnership with the pharmaceutical sector. The Company is a significant new addition to the UK bio-economy, particularly within the North of England, and will ultimately benefit patients.

How did you first become interested in your research?

Although my undergraduate degree was in physics I had the ‘mis’-fortune of living with medical students. This led to many interesting discussions and an appreciation that biology is perhaps more poorly understood than other sciences at a reductive level. Furthermore, while mathematics and physics has already had a major impact on biology, for example, x-ray crystallography of DNA and proteins, it appears clear that they will have an increasingly important role to play. Multidisciplinary science is in my opinion the only way that we will really get to grips with biology, which appears to be vastly more complex than atoms and galaxies.

Did you have any science heroes growing up? Who inspired you?

When I was younger, probably like most people, I was mainly inspired by TV presenters. I was fascinated by nature and astronomy and used to watch and marvel at documentaries by David Attenborough and Patrick Moore. As I got older, and had access to science books and magazines, I became interested in the work of Linus Pauling and Richard Feynman.

How has working in Manchester helped you?

Since the nineties, when I was a PhD student at the old Victoria University, the growth and improvement in research and teaching facilities in Manchester has been huge, including many new state-of-the-art buildings. Furthermore, the University has one of the, if not the, most supportive and reasonable technology transfer offices in the UK. These environmental factors have been a tangible aid to spinning out a company and performing the world-class research that underpinned it.

What do you do outside of work?

Long distance running and equity trading, when I get a chance!

 

Tuesday Feature Episode 39: Charlotte Alcock

After a fortnight break, the Tuesday Feature returns with UK/EU Recruitment & Marketing Officer Charlotte Alcock. Find out about her interesting role here:


Please explain your role here in the Faculty.

I am a Recruitment and Marketing Officer (UK/EU) for the Faculty of Life Sciences. My main aim is to inspire people to apply for Life Sciences courses here at Manchester. To achieve this there are lots of different activities I get involved in including: writing for the website and prospectus, managing our social media and video content, arranging open days and giving talks about our courses. The part of the job I enjoy the most is planning exciting activities for school pupils who want to come in and visit our facilities at the University and get involved in some hands on science.

How does your role benefit the public?

I hope that through all the activities my team is involved in we are inspiring the very brightest and best students to come to Manchester and that these students will go on to become scientists that will have a big impact on areas that affect the public. Over the time that I have worked here I have seen our graduates go on to careers as varied as developing vaccines, conserving shark populations, developing crops which are resistant to disease and working as clinical scientists in the NHS.

How did you first become interested in marketing?

I don’t have a background in marketing; my degree is actually in Biological Sciences right here at The University of Manchester (longer ago than I care to remember!). When I saw this job advertised I saw it as a great opportunity to come back to work at a place that I loved, use my biology knowledge, and inspire more people to come and take advantage of all the brilliant opportunities that are available here. I am lucky to be marketing something that I really believe in as opposed to, for example, the latest style of handbag!

What did you want to be when you were younger?

When I was much younger I really wanted to be a writer.

However, I chose to study Biological Sciences at university as my brother was diagnosed with autism when I was 16. I was really interested in the idea that there were genetic factors underlying his condition and I wanted to understand that better. I think at the time I thought I would become a high flying scientist and make an exciting discovery in this field. But a few years in the lab at university made me realise that although I absolutely loved learning about biology I just wasn’t suited to the work of a research scientist!

So although I’m not living out my childhood dream, I do still get to do lots of writing in my job and I get to write about my favourite subject!

 How has working in Manchester helped you?

Manchester is a great place to work. The Faculty of Life Sciences in particular is a really close knit community. I have always found all my colleagues here to be really helpful and willing to give up their time to support my activities with schools. Working here has given me the opportunity to work alongside inspiring scientists and keep up my interest and involvement in science.

What do you do outside of work?

I have two small children – so although I did used to love and do a lot of yoga, cycling, running and baking – I seem to spend an awful lot of my time these days at the park pretending to be a dinosaur!

University’s blindness therapy comes a step closer following landmark licensing deal with US firm

Hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, who have a disease that can lead to blindness, could have their sight restored after The University of Manchester entered into a technology license with Seattle-based company Acucela Inc.

The agreement will see Acucela commercialise technology developed by researchers at The University of Manchester that has the potential to partially restore vision in people who are blind from degenerative retinal conditions such as Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP).

RP is an inherited retinal disease that causes a progressive degeneration of the photoreceptor cells in the eye. Often beginning in childhood, RP patients most commonly first experience difficulties with peripheral and night vision, followed by poor colour perception and central vision; in many sufferers this can eventually result in legal blindness. RP affects approximately 1 out of every 4,000 people in the US, Europe and Asia, around 1.5M people in total, and there is currently no effective treatment for this disorder.

Acucela, a clinical-stage ophthalmology company that specialises in developing treatments to slow the progression of sight-threatening diseases of the eye, will now undertake a programme of clinical trials ahead of commercialisation of the technology.  It is anticipated that the first patients will be treated within 3 years and Acucela plans to evaluate the ability of the therapy to partially restore vision in patients who are legally blind.

The therapy was developed by University of Manchester researchers Dr. Jasmina Cehajic-Kapetanovic and Professors Robert Lucas and Paul Bishop. In advanced RP the photoreceptor (light-sensitive) cells die off, but other neuronal cells are still present in the retina. In trials using RP affected mice with a complete loss of their photoreceptor cells, the scientists used a gene therapy approach which successfully made these other cells light-responsive.  This optogenetic therapy was sufficiently effective at restoring visional responses in the mice to allow them to detect spatial patterns presented using an ordinary flat screen display.

Dr. Ryo Kubota, Chairman, President and CEO of Acucela said:

“We are extremely excited to enter into this collaboration with the University and to begin the important development work needed to unlock the potential of optogenetic gene therapy to improve visual function in patients who have lost much of their vision as well as their hope.”

Dr. Paul Bishop, FRCOphth, PhD, Professor of Ophthalmology, University of Manchester added:

“This is a very exciting therapeutic approach as the blind mice we treated could see surprisingly well in normal lighting conditions, and we think the approach may be safe as we are putting a normal human retinal protein back into the retina, but in cells that don’t normally make it.  We are delighted at the prospect of working with Acucela towards restoring some visual function in patients who have severe visual loss from RP and similar conditions.”

Director of Operations at UMIP, Dr. Rich Ferrie commented,

 “We believe that Acucela is the ideal partner to develop a gene therapy for RP based on this ground-breaking science. The licensing arrangement has the potential to deliver significant economic return to the University if the clinical trials and commercialisation programme are successful. More importantly the signing of this agreement represents a potentially pivotal moment and offers real hope for millions of RP patients around the world.”

The technology was first reported in Current Biology in June 2015 and in The New Scientist in August 2015 and it was also presented at the ARVO eye research conference in the US in May 2015.

Two scientists receive nominations

Two University of Manchester scientists have been shortlisted for the prestigious BBSRC Innovator of the Year award. Both Dr Sheena Cruickshank and Dr Andrew Almond from the Faculty of Life Sciences have been nominated.

The BBSRC Innovator of the Year will be awarded on the 18 May at the Fostering Innovation event in London. The award recognises scientists who have been able to harness the full potential of their research leading to breakthroughs in their respective fields. An award nomination is a recognition of a scientist’s excellent work and effort.

Dr Andrew Almond received his nomination in helping to pioneer the C4X venture. C4X is a spin-out company that uses a new approach for for 3D modelling of specific structures with high accuracy. This modelling has helped to develop new and effective drug targets and does so in a much more efficient way; sometimes saving up to 90% of the normal production costs. The company is now estimated to be worth £31 million.

On receiving the nomination, Dr Almond said:

1almond

 

“I was delighted to receive the news that I had been shortlisted for BBSRC Innovator of the Year and surprised by the very positive feedback from the review panel. C4X Discovery, now listed on the London Stock Exchange, is building the world’s most productive drug discovery engine and its recent ground breaking R&D in the areas of addiction, COPD, inflammation and diabetes are poised to deliver substantial patient benefits. It is testament to the University of Manchester’s world leading research environment and its assiduous support for innovation and commercialisation.”

Dr Sheena Cruickshank has received her nomination on the basis of her work, in raising awareness and involving the public in her research around infection and immunology, in both local and global communities. Sheena studies neglected tropical diseases and her work with international populations of people now based in the UK has directed and informed her research which now focuses on ways to better diagnose and monitor infection. Her work identified a need to develop science resources that would remove barriers to accessing healthcare, enabling dialogue and discussion. These resources have been used in Bolton College and more recently in Madagascar. In addition in response to concerns from international communities about allergies she worked with the public, teams of scientists and the Royal Society of Biology and British Society for Immunology to  create the #BritainBreathing app which uses citizen science to further research into  seasonal allergies.

On receiving the nomination, Dr Cruickshank said:

Sheena AAS“I was thrilled to receive the news that I had been shortlisted as I am passionate about sharing my research with the public and believe this is a vital part of a scientist’s role in society. Working with the public has been vital to my research and really driven its direction and shaped its content. Hearing people’s own reflections on infections and the barriers to healthcare is deeply moving and I have been privileged to work these people as well as my amazing collaborators who have enabled this work. This project is one of many that reflect the University’s commitment to Social Responsibility.”

Future Month

Future Month is happening, and it’s packed full of events and workshops designed specifically for research staff and students. Whether you are trying to figure out your next career move or need to finish your thesis there is something for you.

Future Month brings together a group of events that are designed to:

  • support researchers in exploring future plans
  • connecting with other researchers and discovering the breadth of opportunities available
  • discover the breadth of opportunities available to researchers at the University.

 

So take a look at http://www.researcher-development.manchester.ac.uk/

What we’re doing right (and wrong) on autism

As World Autism Awareness Week goes into full swing Dr Emma Gowen, a University of Manchester expert in the condition explains what more needs to be done to make autistic people’s lives better.


 

“As a researcher, I’m struck by how much more we talk about autism nowadays – but also by how many misconceptions still predominate. World Autism Awareness Week is a fantastic opportunity to talk about these issues and that’s been helped no end by the excellent drama on BBC 1, the A Word. Our project at Manchester, also aims to make an important contribution.

“The A Word does seem to reflect the difficulties that parents face after diagnosis, as support is so patchy and often poor: they are often left in limbo – with little or no support over decisions such as whether to be home schooled or not, and are often spoken to in professional terms that mean little to ordinary working people.

“Our project runs in partnership with Salfordautism, a local peer-support and advocacy organisation. During three workshops, we met many people who live with autism to discuss how academics and autistic people might work together to learn more about autism, resulting in a series of honest and revealing short films The films highlight misconceptions autistic people face – as well pointing us researchers to those areas which are important to autistic people themselves.

“Many people think that autistic people have extraordinary talents, but in fact, only at most 1 or 2 in 200 individuals can be described like that. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, and that includes all autistic people.

“And while many people think the condition just affects children, it is simply not true: less than 25% of all autistic people are children and all autistic children grow up to be autistic adults. While over 75% of autistic adults are capable of and wish to work, only 15% are in full-time paid employment. And at least one in three autistic adults experience severe mental health difficulties due to a lack of support.

“And yes, women can be and are autistic, too. Officially, five times as many men than women are diagnosed with autism but research shows that autism spectrum disorders are vastly under-diagnosed in women, so the balance between the sexes may be much closer than that.

“Societies awareness of autism has increased, so that’s a good thing. Sadly, this can lead to the misleading impression that it’s on the increase when there’s no indication that it is any more or less common now than at any time in the past. What we are seeing is actually a result of changes in how diagnosis was carried out up to the 1980s – when autism was defined very rigidly and perhaps inappropriately. The definition has now been much improved by greater awareness of newer discoveries.

“There is also a growing understanding of the inappropriateness of the ‘medical model’ of autism, which tends to look for a cure, and uptake of the ‘social model’ which seeks to understand and accept everyone’s individuality: many healthcare professionals and most autistic people now seek to create a supportive environment in which autistic people can flourish. And that, most of all, is what I hope this week will get across.”

PhD Student wins Science Communication Competition

PhD researcher Ben Stutchbury has won an international science communication competition. The competition was hosted by Chemistry World, the magazine published by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC). The aim was to make chemistry a more accessible topic to the public.

The applicants first had to write an 800 word essay summarising a commissioned report by the RSC. The report found that chemistry, unlike other scientific disciplines, failed to be relatable to the lay audience.

Ben says:

“The RSC Public Attitudes to Chemistry Research Report highlighted a number of issues in the way chemistry is perceived by the public. For example, when asked where a chemist was likely to work, most people said “in a pharmacy”! One thing that struck me was how negatively the term ‘Chemistry’ is viewed by the public in comparison term ‘Science’. As chemistry is a huge part of science, I was surprised by how differently they are perceived. I think that the public opinion to the terms ‘Biology’ and ‘Physics’ would be more positive than that of ‘Chemistry’.”

The report had found that the public’s perception of science was that it was fun, interesting and engaging, which was in stark contrast to the view of chemistry as an isolated field, which was seen to be inaccessible, serious and intimidating. Ben therefore concluded that establishing why science was tangible and chemistry was not, would help to make chemistry more accessible.

Ben argued that this is likely due to chemistry’s lack of presence in the mainstream media. There is no David Attenborough or Brian Cox acting as a ‘public champion’ for chemistry. However, he also concluded that the problem may run deeper, stemming from how chemistry is taught in schools.

His essay, which will now be published in the next issue of Chemistry World, was highly received and Ben was shortlisted for the final, in the famous Faraday lecture theatre at the Royal Institute. Each of the 5 finalists had to produce a 10 minute talk to a mixed audience of 200 people that would explain a chemistry concept in an engaging way. For this Ben chose the chemistry behind the mucus in our bodies.

After some deliberation amongst the judges, Ben was presented with the award. The award comes with a week’s work experience with AkzoNobel – a world leader in the chemistry field.

Ben, whose PhD comes to an end in 6 months, says:

“It is really fantastic to have won the award, but the most exciting thing was just reaching the final. The opportunity to present in the historic Faraday Lecture Theatre is something I will never forget. The other finalists all gave brilliant presentations and it really showed that the communication of exciting chemistry has a bright future!”

Be a school governor

The University is aiming to help create the largest growth of school governors in the UK. To do this, they need the help of staff members to become volunteer governors in local schools.

School Governors play an important role in the long-term development of local education by providing support and strategic advice to head teachers. They also make executive decisions over budgets and staff appointments.

Becoming a governor is a great way for staff to learn new skills, with 93% of governors claiming that they had ‘gained new skills’. What’s more, many feel proud of the work that they are doing and feel as if their contribution is making a real difference to local schools.

A governor usually serves a 4 year term and the average time commitment is 10-15 hours a term. The social responsibility team, alongside SGOSS – Governors for Schools, have made becoming a governor as easy as possible. They have a dedicated network of staff members set up for people to share best practice as well as give support and guidance to one another. Additionally, the University will make some allowance for staff to take paid time off if their governorship  overlaps with their work commitments.

For more information and to sign up for this great scheme, head over to the SGOSS – Governors for Schools website.

Tuesday Feature Episode 38: Edward McKenzie

This week we interview experimental officer Eddie McKenzie – find out more about his interesting job.


 

Please explain your role with the faculty and the university.

As Senior Experimental Officer /Facility Manager of the Protein Expression Research Facility, I lead a small team that collaborates with groups across the whole university. We essentially supply a ‘gene to protein structure’ pipeline providing all the in house resources required for cloning and high quality recombinant protein production. In some cases we go all the way from a gene accession code to purified protein product using a variety of prokaryotic and eukaryotic expression platforms. Working closely with the University business development team we also carry out contract work for external companies and in recent years this has proven to be a very successful route to generate additional revenue. The facility also provides regular training, workshops and regular drop-in troubleshooting sessions. With over 200 projects per year we see a lot of common protein production problems and it gives great satisfaction when we can provide a quick fix to an issue or re-direct in a different route based on our experience. In some cases we just help out with kick-starting a project and then the group moves on independently but in many others we’re fortunate to be involved at various stages in the project over many years.

What benefits does an experimental officer offer to the general public?

Every Year MIB opens its door to A level students for a day of talks and live demonstrations. My team has a stall where students can try their hands at techniques such as chromatography and PCR. Recently I was invited to give a talk at Leeds Grammar School careers day and gave them a flavour of how my science career has developed. We also run mini 2 day practical courses for A level students and this is a great way to give them a taste of work in a lab and hopefully inspire the next generation.

How did you first become interested in science?

Visits to the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow growing up opened my eyes at early age to science and I developed a curiosity especially for biology and medicine. I enjoyed re-visiting the museum since with my own family.

Did you have any science heroes growing up?

As a young PhD student, in my role as treasurer of the Oxford Biochemical Society, I was lucky enough to meet with the pharmacologist and Nobel Laureate Professor Sir John Vane.  I was fascinated by his research into prostaglandins and aspirin mode of action but also by how he spent his Nobel prize money and the house he built on a Caribbean island!

Who inspired you to study/work in science?

At secondary school I had an inspirational chemistry teacher (and former MP) called John McFall. John helped bring science alive for me by making the lessons exciting and teaching me to  question everything.

How has working in Manchester helped you? Think about it

Before coming to Manchester in 2003, I worked previously in the Biotechnology/Pharmaceutical drug discovery sector for 8 years. I gained so much experience from those days but missed out on the ability to publish (where most research was automatically patented by default) and also teaching.

At Manchester I have re-developed my teaching role, as tutor and advisor to the undergraduate Biotechnology course, and this gives me tremendous satisfaction tracking  student’s growth and development over the years.

What do you do outside of work?

Living in the Peak district means that I have stunning surroundings. My main interests are hill walking with my wife and dogs and also mountain biking. This summer I’m looking forward to travelling further afield with my recently purchased tear drop caravan. With teenage kids, my main role outside work however is being an unpaid taxi driver and as a roadie to my son’s band!

The 6th Annual Body Experience

Saturday 19th March 2016 saw the ‘Body Experience’ return to the Manchester Museum for the sixth year running. Over 1000 people poured into the Museum to explore the wonder of the human body through engaging and interactive stands hosted by teams of researchers from across the Faculties of Life Sciences and Medical and Human Sciences.

The family fun day kicked off at 11 o’clock, where people were greeted by student volunteers and where people collected their very own passports for the ‘Body Experience’. If anyone was unsure in which direction to start, Science Buskers were on hand to entertain the public as they passed through reception. ‘Body Experience’ took over the Museum from top to bottom, with opportunities to see and feel real kidneys, build your own spine, explore the wonder of the human brain, children could crawl through a cholesterol-filled artery and make their own mucus! Over 60 researchers took part to share their passion and excitement for their research with the public.

The event was organised by Ceri Harrop with huge support from Shazia Chaudhry, Vicky Grant, and the Photographics Team in the Faculty of Life Sciences.

Feedback from the public included:

-As an adult, fascinating to hear young researchers talk of their interests.

“I’ve got an operation on my hip in a couple of weeks so it was dead informative to chat to the spine people! SOMETHING FOR ADULTS AS WELL AS KIDS”, Alan, 42.

“Both boys (aged 3 and 7) loved it. We also found it very interesting. The students were great.”

“Really enjoyed all of it. Kids were really engaged and actually disappointed when we had to leave!!”

Ceri Harrop, the coordinator for the day, says:

“It is great to host the Body Experience for the sixth consecutive year, and see the support and enthusiasm from both the researchers, student volunteers and the public build year-on-year. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with the only negative comments being that it should be a two-day event.

All in all, the body experience was 8 hours, 16 stands, 67 researchers, 15 volunteers, 2 science buskers, 540 passports, one brilliant day!”

 

 

Tuesday Feature Episode 37: Kunal Chopra

This week we’re interviewing an International PhD student who is doing some fascinating research into wound healing.


Please explain your research for the public in ten sentences or less.

I’m looking at the role of biomolecules known as reactive oxidative species. These have previously been shown to play a role in wound healing and we are studying how these species behave in the Zebrafish. Specifically we’re looking at how reactive oxidative species help with wound healing in the zebrafish.

The good thing about using zebrafish is that they are 60% genetically identical to humans and so we can use them as a very useful model of studying wound healing for humans. The other thing that I am studying is the involvement of hormones in wound healing because previous research has shown that certain hormones are actually beneficial in the wound healing process.

How will this benefit the general public?

It might be useful to mention here that I am funded by the healing foundation. The foundation is looking to fund research that will have general benefits to the public. To specifically answer the question, wound healing can be quite a problem in diseases like diabetes where it is delayed and wounds can be left open for long periods of time which can lead to other health complications. What we are doing here in the lab will essentially help us understand how we can help counter those problems in patients.

How did you first become interested in wound healing?

I have been very open-minded about what I have wanted to research but recently I really became interested in wound healing at the genetic level. There are a number of genes involved in wound healing during the developmental process and I became interested in these. Any given organism during its development has these sets of genes that helps it grow into a mature adult. The thing about wound healing is that many of the same genes and mechanisms get switched back on and it was my initial interest in developmental genes that got me more involved in wound healing.

Did you have any science heroes or people that inspired you?

No I don’t idolise anyone but there is one person that I really like and his name is Ernst Haeckel. Haeckel published a very beautiful book called ‘Art forms of nature’, which has some wonderful illustrations of different life forms. When I saw the symmetry in animals like jellyfish or butterflies, it inspired me to study developmental science to see how life grows this way.

How has studying here in Manchester helped you?

Oh it’s great! It felt very unreal in the beginning when I was offered the position to study here because this is a city that I had visited so many times and I never thought that I would get the chance to study here. The environment is great, the student support is fantastic and I have been lucky to get the healing foundation scholarship – so all in all it has been a very good experience.

What do you do outside of studying here?

I do a lot of travel photography. Whenever I get the chance, I try to escape to mainland Europe and try to photograph different cities. When I was young I used to read a lot of books but I think that the interest in them has faded now.


 

Curator scheme for Life Science students

Manchester Museum and the Faculty of Life Sciences are currently piloting a ‘student curator’ scheme for a cohort of life sciences students. This initiative was developed to give students a great informal learning experience – gaining key curator skills- and to give them insights into a less obvious career for science graduates.

The scheme is based on themed two-hour hands-on workshops, which run monthly from November–May. These are on Saturdays (they’re keen!) to ensure all of the participating students can take part, and are led by the Museum curators who explain the rather esoteric practices involved in preparing, looking after, and making use of museum specimens.

Skills learnt on the Saturday workshops—from taxidermy to pressing plants on herbarium sheets—can then be applied by the students when they come into the Museum to volunteer throughout the rest of the week. Students acquire specific collections knowledge and an extensive range of curatorial and transferable skills. This is a very effective scheme for the Museum as it helps ensure students have the correct skills to work as a valuable addition to the volunteer programme.

The curator scheme is recognised through a ‘passport’ that records curator skills gained during the training. This is the first year of this scheme, and it is envisaged that it will build into a three level ‘bronze, silver, gold’ awards.

Prof. Amanda Bamford, Associate Dean for Social Responsibility, said

“this unique and exiting programme offers students the opportunity to develop their own curatorial expertise and a chance to put them into practice using the Museum’s valuable collections. Importantly, it gives them a real insight into the central role of Museum curators.”

Zika virus vaccine to be developed in Manchester

A University of Manchester team is to develop a new vaccine against the Zika virus as part of a new initiative to counter the disease which has spread rapidly across the Americas in the last few months.

The team will create and test a vaccine based on a safe derivative of a pre-existing smallpox vaccine – the only disease to have been successfully globally eradicated.

Dr Tom Blanchard, Honorary Senior Lecturer at The University of Manchester and Fellow of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and Consultant in Infectious Diseases at North Manchester General Hospital and the Royal Liverpool Hospital will lead the project. Professor Pam Vallely and Dr Eddie McKenzieare University of Manchester experts involved in the project and the work will be done in collaboration with Professors Miles Carrol and Roger Hewson from Public Health England.

Dr Blanchard said:

“As we have seen in the case of Ebola there is now a real need to react quickly to fast spreading tropical diseases. Zika can cause serious illness, but it often has no visible symptoms, so a vaccine for those at risk is one of the most effective ways we have of combatting it.”

Zika virus was first identified in Uganda in 1947 and the disease is mainly spread by mosquitoes, though there have been reports of human to human transmission. It is particularly serious for pregnant women, as it’s been linked to birth defects – in particular, microcephaly, a condition where a baby’s brain doesn’t grow properly and it is born with an abnormally small head and serious development problems.

A recent and particularly severe outbreak which began in South America and has since spread north to United States Territories prompted the Medical Research Council, The Wellcome Trust and the Newton Fund to launch a £4m rapid response funding initiative at the beginning of February.

The results of this call for proposals have been announced today and Dr Blanchard and his team were awarded £177,713 to build and test a vaccine as part of this.

It is expected that the results will be delivered within 18 months and although the first target will be the Zika virus, the nature of the vaccine candidate may enable it to combat many infectious diseases simultaneously.

Dr Blanchard added:

“We know that there’s an urgent need for this vaccine but we’ll be working carefully to deliver a product which is safe and effective and which can be quickly deployed to those who need it.

If we can also use this vaccine on multiple targets then this will represent an exciting step forward in dealing with these kinds of outbreaks.”

 

HIV Treatment could be used to help treat skin cancers

Faculty scientists have made an important discovery in skin cancer treatments. They found that the HIV drug Nelfinavir can help treatments of melanoma to become more potent.

Skin cancer is a major problem in the UK, with more than 13,000 people being diagnosed with melanomas every year and over 2,000 people dying from it. There are drugs that are available to help treat melanoma skin cancer, but these can be ineffective because melanoma cells become resistant to them over time. After the resistance, the cells go on to make genetic changes which make it extremely hard to attack them.

Professor Claudia Wellbrock and her team found that Nelfinavir can help prevent cancer cells from becoming resistant to the treatment, making the cancer fighting agents more effective for a longer time.

The team discovered that cancer cells were able to rewire themselves by using a molecular change. This change that typically takes place in the first two weeks of cancer treatments, helps the cancer cells to develop resistance.

It was this molecular change that Wellbrock targeted by the use of Nelfinavir. It was found that Nelfinavir actually blocks the cells from rewiring and they were therefore less likely to develop resistance to the cancer treatment.

It is now thought that Nelfinavir could be administrated alongside existing cancer drugs in order to improve their effectiveness and boost the patient’s chances of survival.

Professor Wellbrock says:

“In the first few weeks of standard treatment for skin cancer, the cancer cells become stronger and more robust against treatment. But if we can target skin cancer cells before they become fully resistant, we would have a much better chance of blocking their escape. We think this research has brought us one step closer to making this a reality.”


The paper can be found at Cancer Cell   http://www.cell.com/cancer-cell/fulltext/S1535-6108(16)30037-X

 

Becoming the Best: Women in Science

Women have made great strides towards achieving equality in science, but there’s a still a long way to go – according to a leading scientist from The University of Manchester.

Dr Hema Radhakrishnan, one of the nation’s top sight researchers, today launched a programme of events at The University to encourage women to advance in their field.

Called ‘Becoming the Best’, women from across science spoke to an audience of female academics and students on International Women’s Day.

The event was organised by Dr Radhakrishnan, Deputy Associate Dean for Social Responsibility and Professor Amanda Bamford, Associate Dean for Social Responsibility – both at the Faculty of Life Sciences.

The move builds on the prestigious Athena Swan Silver Award given in October 2015, which recognised the Faculty’s commitment to tackling gender inequality in higher education.

The Equality Challenge Unit gave the award to just 87 departments in the whole of the UK.

The Athena SWAN charter was established in 2005 to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science.

Dr Radhakrishnan said:

 “Even though we are a long way forward from even 10 years ago, women are still more likely to progress in their careers at a rate that is slower than their male counterparts.

“Men and women do things differently and offer different perspectives; it doesn’t make sense to lose the talents of half the population.

“Women often drop out of science in the period between getting their PhD and finding an academic position and it’s family life which can act as a barrier.

“Sometimes, though it’s simply a question of women not putting themselves forwards for promotion.

“So to break that barrier, we have implemented flexible working, coaching and mentoring schemes – as well as establishing a Women in Life Sciences Group.

“And this programme is part of that ethos.”

Professor Bamford added:

” We strive to develop a culture of fairness, opportunity, flexibility, and respect and want to be a beacon in gender equality.

“So there is no pausing in our efforts, especially as we are now working towards our Athena Swan Gold award”

The event included a keynote speech from Professor Teresa Anderson MBE, Director of the Jodrell Bank Discover Centre

Other speakers at the event included:

Lopa Patel MBE – digital entrepreneur and founder of inclusion think tank ‘Diversity UK’.

Dr. Heather Williams – Director of ‘ScienceGrrl’, which celebrates and supports women in science.

Dr. Narmeen Varawalla – Executive ice-president and chief scientific officer of Lambda Therapeutic Research.

Dr Santos Bhanot – Chair of Asian Circle, a charity which supports vulnerable and disadvantaged women in India.

Professor Susan Kimber – Co-director of NEWSCC.

Angela Saini – Science journalist, author and broadcaster.

Professor Amrita Ahluwalia – Deputy director, The William Harvey Research Institute.

Professor Aline Miller – Professor of biomolecular engineering, The University of Manchester

_DSC0196

Tuesday Feature Episode 36: Amy Chambers

Please explain your research for the general public in around ten sentences or less.

I work in the fields of science communication and screen studies and I’m interested in the relationship between movies and the public understanding of science. I conduct research into science fiction movies made between 1967-1977 and their incorporation of real-world science and imagined future science. My work also analyses how major scientific concepts and advancements have influenced onscreen representations of science. As part of my current project – The Playing God Project – I am looking more specifically at how leaders and members of religious institutions have interpreted and understood science in movies. I also work on the representation of women in STEM and the inclusion of women scientists in the processes of entertainment media production.

How does this research benefit the general public?

My research contributes to larger discussions about how public understanding of science is shaped and communicated through distinctly non-scientific sources such as movies, TV, and video games. There has been a lot of research into this area that confirms that the entertainment media we consume influences our understanding of science from what medical science is capable of to what dinosaurs look like. My research into women in STEM on screen is about gaining an understanding of how a more diverse representation of scientists on screen can directly influence the number of girls and women pursuing real-world STEM careers, and also advising industry professionals. The public greatly benefits from the work being done by science communication scholars who are committed to improving science content through a better understanding of how science is integrated into the production, dissemination, and reception of entertainment media.

 How did you first become interested in your research area?

I did my PhD in Film Studies and contemporary US history and studied the use of moving images (movies) as primary sources for historians. I focussed my research on science fiction movies released in the 1960s and 1970s and considered them as texts that reflected and interacted with their specific historical context. Part of my thesis analysed science and technology in this era both on and off-screen, and when the opportunity arose to work on a project looking at the intersection of science and movies – I knew this was an area of research I really wanted to develop.

Did you have any science heroes growing up?

I had a fictional science hero. When I was younger I wanted to be a forensic scientist having avidly watched the wonderful BBC series Silent Witness. I wanted to be Dr Sam Ryan (Amanda Burton). Unfortunately I discovered this would not be my future career after fainting in a year 8 biology class during a heart dissection demonstration (sorry, Mr Lewis). How disappointing.

 How has working in Manchester helped you?

I’m in the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM). Unlike other HSTM units in the UK, CHSTM is uniquely positioned within a science faculty. I work alongside a fascinating range of scientists, historians, and students who have helped me to understand the relationship between science and society from different perspectives that I would not have gained in a more traditional humanities setting. I have also had the opportunity to get involved in public science events like the FLS community open day where I have presented a stand on dinosaurs in children’s TV and movies, the British Science Fiction Festival being held in Manchester this year, and the Playing God Film Series that kicks off on 17th March at the Anthony Burgess Foundation with a great programme of six movies and speakers discussing science, religion, and cinema.

 Finally, what do you do outside of work?

I love to sing and the city has given me some great opportunities for that too! I sing with the amazing choir at St Ann’s Church in the centre of the city, and last summer I sang as part of a community choir for the Manchester International Festival production of The Skriker with Maxine Peake at the Royal Exchange Theatre. I also have two lovely cats that keep me company (and distract me) when I work from home, one of which is called Rosalind Franklin.

Tuesday Feature Episode 35: Holly Shiels

This week we’re featuring Dr Holly Shiels – a senior lecturer in cardiac physiology. Without any further introduction, let’s get right into it.


 

Please explain your research for the general public in around 10 sentences or less

Survival of nearly all vertebrate animals depends on maintained cardiac function. Environmental changes, such as temperature and oxygen fluctuations, can dramatically affect the ability of the heart to maintain normal function. To this end, we explore strategies of cardiac adaptation that permit maintenance of heart function in ectotherms living in fluctuating environments. We try to understand this across levels of biological organisation and in a range of species including tuna, trout, turtle, caiman, zebrafish, catfish, varanid lizard, rat and hamster and even human!

What benefit does your research give to the people reading this blog?

Recently we have been working on the effect of oil spill pollutants on the hearts of fish.  This is important for understanding the implications of environmental disasters on aquatic species. Fish have a number of uses for humans – from food, sport and hobbies to thriving ecosystems which help sustain the environment here on Earth.

How did you first become interested in your research area?

During my PhD I had my first chance to work on large pelagic fish like tuna and swordfish.  These animals move through thermoclines and hypoxic zones in the ocean and their heart beats throughout.  I found this fascinating and am still trying to understand how they do it today!

Did you have any science heroes growing up? Who inspired you to do science?

Growing up in Canada there was a TV program called ‘The Nature of Things’  it was hosted by an Environmental Science Professor at the University of British Columbia called David Suzuki.  I liked it because it presented nature and the impact humans were having on it.  This was a novel approach for nature documentaries in the 70s and it made me think that I had a responsibility to understand mechanisms of environmental adaption.

How has working here in Manchester helped you?

Manchester is a large institution with excellent facilities that attract world class scientists in nearly every discipline.  This is a great benefit as it means the questions I can ask in my research are nearly endless; there will always be the equipment and know-how to address interesting questions.

What do you do outside of work?

I enjoy time with my family and friends.

 

Tuesday Feature Episode 34: Henry Mcghie

Episode 34 of the Tuesday Feature takes a look at a different part of the University life: The Manchester Museum. Today we interview Henry Mcghie who is the Head of Collections and Curator of Zoology at the Manchester Museum.


 

Please explain your role with the museum and the University.

I’m the Head of Collections and Curator of Zoology at the Museum, which means I head up the team of Curators and Curatorial Assistants. The Museum is the largest university museum in the UK, with a collection of over 4.8 million objects and specimens. I’m responsible for the direction of the team, building relationships that make use of the collection for wider use, and working to ensure that the Museum contributes effectively to the University’s overall goals. My team lead the development of most of the Museum’s exhibitions: over the last few years I’ve worked on two large gallery redevelopments and many temporary exhibitions. I also help with the preparation of funding bids for developing the Museum, and am involved in a number of funded projects exploring various aspects of museums and environmental sustainability.

What benefits do museums offer to the general public?

That’s a big question. Museums are storehouses, catalysts, research tools, sources of inspiration. They can offer something to everyone. The Museum has about 450,000 visitors a year who visit the exhibitions we develop and who take part in events. Our collections are heavily used by experts round the world, who ask to examine objects and specimens, or to sample them for scientific analysis. Museums can help connect people with the world around them. They help people connect with the ‘big here’ and the ‘long now’. I think they are really important reference points, helping us understand how we know what we know, and helping people critically evaluate the information they’re presented by mass media and politicians.

How did you first become interested in your museums and engagement?

I became involved with museums when I was an undergraduate at Aberdeen University (over 20 years ago now). They had a university museum, and I got involved with sorting out the bird and egg collections at Inverness Museum. My overriding interest is bird ecology and conservation, and I used to work as a field ecologist. I realised that collections were a rich resource for understanding changes in distribution and ecology, and also that they had enormous potential for educating and inspiring the public. I was completely fascinated by the old collections and historical records, and wrote quite a bit based on them. That’s what helped me most to find a job.

Did you have any science heroes growing up? Who inspired you to study/work in science?

I was always a great admirer of Thomas Huxley and, of course, Charles Darwin. Ian Newton, formerly of the ITE/CEH was also a great inspiration.

How has working here in Manchester helped you?

I’ve been at the Museum for quite a while now, and have had a number of different roles. I started in a temporary job, then worked my way up. I’ve loved the opportunities that came along as the Museum underwent radical change and growth. I’ve built up my knowledge of my pet subject, had enormous opportunities to share really interesting things with the public, set up a team to develop exhibitions and support student teaching, the list goes on and on. I’ve been very satisfied with lots of the projects I’ve worked on, which you can see make a big difference to people and to nature.

What do you do outside of work?

Bird-watching, allotment, gardening, walking, gym, writing

Study explains why our organs are bendy

An international team of researchers has discovered how one of the body’s crucial building blocks allows human tissues to be so flexible.

Faculty scientist, Professor Clair Baldock, working with researchers from the University of Sydney and MIT, now has a better understanding of how elastin – which makes our organs and vessels flexible – moves.

The research could one day help us to understand why some diseases weaken blood vessels, or improve the ability of scientists to artificially engineer new tissue.

Elastin allows skin to stretch and twist, blood vessels to expand and relax, and lungs to swell and contract – and is present in many of our body’s structures.

Elastin tissues are made up of a protein called tropoelastin, which are strung together in chain-like structures.

The findings were published this week in the journal Science Advances.

Professor Clair Baldock used a synchrotron – a type of particle accelerator which propels charged particles to near light speed – to reveal the shape and structure of tropoelastin molecules.

Her colleagues at Sydney and MIT revealed how it moves by using a combination of computer modelling and laboratory work.

Professor Baldock said:

“Thanks to this collaborative approach, we now understand that the scissor shaped ‘bump’ of one tropoelastin molecule locks onto the narrow part of another, eventually building up a chain.

“It is these long chains that weave together to produce the flexible tissues so essential to human life such skin, lungs, and blood vessels.

“The ultimate goal of this work is to apply this research to medical practice, though that still is probably a long way off.”

The research team, which also included Steven Wise of the Heart Research Institute in Sydney, was supported in part by grants from the Australian Research Council, the National Institutes of Health, the BBSRC, Wellcome Trust, and the Office of Naval Research.


The findings were published this week in the journal Science Advances. The paper: “Subtle balance of tropoelastin molecular shape and flexibility regulates dynamics and hierarchical assembly.” is available at http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/2/2/e1501145.full

Huge carbon stores discovered beneath UK grasslands

 

A nationwide survey by ecologists has revealed that over 2 billion tons of carbon is stored deep under the UK’s grasslands, helping to curb climate change.

However, decades of intensive farming, involving heavy fertilizer use and excessive livestock grazing, have caused a serous decline in valuable soil carbon stocks in grasslands across the UK.

The nationwide survey was carried out by a team of scientists from the Universities of Manchester, Lancaster, Reading and Newcastle, as well as Rothamsted Research.

The team found that 60% of the UK’s total soil carbon stored in grasslands – covering a third of UK land surface – is between 30cm and 1m deep. The team estimated the total grassland soil carbon in Great Britain to be 2097 teragrams of carbon to a depth of 1m.

Though the effects of high intensity agriculture are strongest in the surface layer of soil, they also discovered that this deep carbon is sensitive to the way land has been farmed.

Dr Sue Ward, the lead author of the paper from Lancaster Environment Centre, said:

“What most surprised us was the depth at which we were still able to detect a change in soil carbon due to historic land management.

“We have long known that carbon is stored in surface soils and is sensitive to the way land is managed. But now we know that this too is true at considerable soil depths under our grasslands.

“This is of high relevance given the extent of land cover and the large stocks of carbon held in managed grasslands worldwide.”

In contrast, the soils that were richest in carbon were those that had been subjected to less intensive farming, receiving less fertilizer and with fewer grazing animals. The team found that soil carbon stocks were 10% higher at intermediate levels of management, compared to intensively managed grasslands.

Professor Richard Bardgett from The University of Manchester said:

“Our findings suggest that by managing our grasslands in a less intensive way, soil carbon storage could be important to our future global carbon targets, but will also bring benefits for biodiversity conservation.”

He added:

“These findings could impact how grasslands are managed for carbon storage and climate mitigation, as current understanding does not account for changes in soil carbon at these depths.

“Our findings suggest that by managing our grasslands in a less intensive way, soil carbon storage could be important to our future global carbon targets, but will also bring benefits for biodiversity conservation.”

The research is part of a five year research project, supported by DEFRA, aimed at managing UK grassland diversity for multiple ecosystem services, including carbon capture.

 


The paper, ‘Legacy effects of grassland management on soil 1 carbon to depth’ is available in the journal Global Change Biology.

Famous Women Life Scientists

Women have shaped the history of life sciences. To celebrate UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we take a look at some of the famous and influential women life scientists from throughout history.

rachel-carson

Rachel Carson: An American marine biologist, her iconic 1962 book ‘Silent Spring’ brought attention to the dangers of synthetic pesticides accumulating in the natural ecosystem, and kick-started the global environmental movement.

 

jane_goodall_gmJane Goodall: Perhaps the most famous primatologist ever, this British OBE spent many years of her life in Tanzania studying man’s close relatives, and is considered the world’s number one expert on chimpanzees

 

marie_curie_c1920Rosalind Franklin: It is often assumed that Watson and Crick were responsible for discovering the molecular structure of DNA, but in actual fact, much of their work was based on earlier research done by this English X-ray crystallographer, who successfully identified the double helix nature of DNA molecules.

 

nobel_prize_2009-press_conference_physiology_or_medicine-11Elizabeth Blackburn: This Australian-American Nobel Prize winner made incredible advances in our knowledge of the telomere – the structure that protects the ends of chromosomes, and co-discovered telomerase, the enzyme that replenishes telomeres.

 

barbara_mcclintock_281902-199229Barbara McClintock – This American geneticist made incredible advances in the field of genetics by studying maize crops, uncovering various processes such as genetic recombination, transposition, and gene regulation.

 

dorothy_hodgkin_nobelDorothy Hodgkin – An American biochemist, she developed the technique of protein crystallography, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, being only the third woman in history to have received this (the previous two being Marie Curie, and her daughter Irène).

 

mary_anning_paintingMary Anning – An English fossil collector; despite having no formal education in science, she discovered a huge variety of Jurassic fossils along the coast of Lyme Regis, including never-before-identified species such as ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs, and became one of the foremost figures in palaeontology at the time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LGBT History Month

This February it’s LGBT History Month: a month-long celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history, the history of gay rights and the struggle for equality.

LGBT History Month aims to increase the visibility of LGBT people both past and present, promote awareness of issues affecting the LGBT community and generally improve the welfare of LGBT people, who continue to face discrimination and inequality here in the UK, as well as internationally. It is held in February to coincide with the anniversary of the 2003 abolition of Section 28, a rule that forbade the promotion of homosexuality in the UK education system.

To mark LGBT History Month, we here at FLS take a look at some of the famous figures in the history of science who were gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender:

Alan_Turing_Aged_16
Alan Turing, aged 16

For example, Alan Turing, one of Manchester’s most famous alumni and a world-renowned computer scientist and mathematician, was a gay man. Famed for his work on cracking the Enigma code while working as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park during the Second World War, Turing was prosecuted for committing homosexual acts in 1952, which were then a crime in the UK. Despite his heroic contribution to the Allied war effort, he was found guilty and sentenced to chemical castration, which back then was regarded as a ‘treatment’ for homosexuality. This was a punishment that was sadly given to thousands of others like him at the time. Turing died of an apparent suicide two years after his conviction. Homosexual acts were not made legal in the UK until 1967. Turing was given a posthumous pardon by the Queen in 2013, and his life was recently dramatised on the big screen in ‘The Imitation Game’. A building and an institution at The University of Manchester are both named in his honour.

Possible_Self-Portrait_of_Leonardo_da_Vinci
Possible self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1513

Looking further back, perhaps one of the most famous figures in the history of science (not to mention the arts, mathematics, architecture, literature etc.), Leonardo da Vinci, is thought by many historians to have been homosexual. The Italian polymath made incredible advances in fields such as anatomy and palaeontology, and invented early versions of modern day technologies such as the helicopter and the parachute. He also produced many of the most famous artworks of the Renaissance, such as the Mona Lisa, and The Last Supper. Court records of the time show that da Vinci and several others were charged with the crime of sodomy involving a male prostitute. However, the charges were ultimately dismissed, perhaps due to pressure from the accused parties’ powerful relatives.

Looking to recent history, many prominent scientists and mathematicians have identified as LGBT. These include Nate Silver, the American statistician who correctly predicted the winner of all 50 states during the 2012 US Presidential Election, who identifies as gay. Lynn Conway, a celebrated American engineer and computer scientist, came out as a trans woman in 1999, having undergone gender reassignment during the late 1960s. At the time of her reassignment, it had resulted in her being fired from her job at IBM. Today she is perhaps the most prominent transgender activist from the scientific community.

Lynn conway
Lynn Conway

 

Costa Rican Ambassador visits the Faculty of Life Sciences

costaricanambassadorvisittolifesciencesThe Costa Rican ambassador recently travelled to Manchester to help further the established links between the Faculty of Life Sciences and Costa Rica.

His Excellency J. Enrique Castillo officially launched ‘Learning with Lucy’, a University of Manchester campaign to save one of the world’s rarest frogs.

Lucy Marland, 9, joined forces with The University of Manchester after coming face to face with a Lemur Leaf Frog, kept at Manchester Museum and one of only a few hundred left anywhere in the world.

The campaign aims to educate primary age school children in the UK, Sweden, and in the Guayacan region of Costa Rica, where the frog still survives, about the amphibian and its threatened rainforest habitat.

The Faculty runs a second-year field course to Costa Rica every year where students are able to explore the breath-taking biodiversity of the country.

The Faculty has a long standing relationship with Costa Rica, with the field course running for many years. It is hoped the ambassador’s visit will strengthen the ties between the University and Costa Rica and will open up new doors of partnership.

After his tour of the Faculty’s facilities, the Ambassador said:

“My country is grateful for this contribution from the University of Manchester and the Museum to the protection of endangered species in Costa Rica and to the country’s efforts in environment protection in general.

I look forward to cementing the already very good relationship between The University of Manchester and Costa Rica.”

Professor Amanda Bamford, Associate Dean for Social Responsibility said:

“This University of Manchester project also supports environmental education in primary schools in Costa Rica, where these frogs occur in the wild, not only reflects a genuine commitment to helping conserve endangered species but also provides us with a wonderful opportunity for our undergraduates to exercise their global citizenship.”

Tuesday Feature episode 33: Thomas Nuhse

This week we speak to Lecturer Thomas Nuhse about his unique role here in the Faculty of Life Sciences.


 

Please explain your role here in the Faculty.     

I’m just a regular lecturer at the Faculty of Life Sciences and about two years ago I moved to something called a teaching and scholarship contract. My main role is to teach and the scholarship means that I’m expected to stay on top of new ideas around teaching and learning. I have to stay on top of the current understanding of how people learn, and how our teaching can support that learning in the best way possible. The expectation is that I do professional development, to learn about the best ways to teach and to share these practices with colleagues.

What type of teaching do you focus on?

I’m teaching across a whole wide range of units and types of teaching. These include things like lectures: I do first year biochemistry, second year plant physiology and third year biotic interactions. I also teach in a range of practicals and I will soon be teaching medical groups.

Why is your role and scholarship an important part of the Faculty?

This type of contract is a relatively new idea and I think there have been a number of different drivers that got the Faculty to support the post. Traditionally, academics would all have a joint research and teaching position but this role is a bit of a specialisation. It has been recognised that even though universities have historically been built on the unity of research and teaching, there is now merit in more specialised jobs. People like me, who learn how learning and teaching works, are able to support their colleagues who are more research heavy. We can take on a slightly heavier load of teaching to allow other colleagues to focus on research.

We can also drive the quality of teaching forward. We have a little bit more time to really try out innovative ways of teaching. In a way, this should benefit the students because we can try new things, we can invest time in building new types of courses and in new ways of teaching. In the end, everyone wins.

Why did you first decide to specialise?

It’s a bit of a personal story because I started at the University of Manchester as a research fellow. I started here in 2007 with a fellowship. My first two years, I spent almost all of my time doing research. The project that I was on was a fairly ambitious and risky project and I found that after a couple of years that things hadn’t worked out as well as I would have liked.  This was partly through bad luck and partly because I didn’t make the right strategic decisions. At the same time, I found that the teaching part of my job was something that I enjoyed much more and where I felt I was being much more productive.

When the opportunity opened up and this type of contract was introduced, I felt I could make a better contribution to the Faculty. I applied to switch contracts and two years  ago I was awarded with this new type of contract.

Did you have any science heroes growing up? Who inspired you?

When I was younger, I was much more into chemistry and so Marie Curie was a hero of mine. Through incredible hard work and determination, she was able to achieve a lot of great things.

 How has working in Manchester helped you?

I think what I’ve really enjoyed is that this is a large Faculty that has a very broad range of research interests. It’s quite exciting to be exposed to top quality research from so many different areas. It allows me to be interested in and learn more about areas that I never really thought about: whether that’s neuroscience, ecology or anything else!

Of course we have great students! We attract some of the brightest students in the country. It is really enjoyable to work with them because they have good ideas and make me think about things I had never thought about. Working with students is something that I enjoy much more than I expected to. Before I arrived here, I worked for ten years in pure research institutes which didn’t have any exposure to undergraduates and it was a bit of a surprise just how much fun it can be to teach students.

What do you outside of work?

When I have the time and it’s not raining, I like to go for walks in the peak district and I like to cycle. Once a week during the semester, I also sing with the University chorus.


 

 

 

Rotation speed may be bad news for Red Planet pioneers

New research has revealed the importance of a circadian body clock that matches the rotational speed of the Earth.

A team of scientists from Holland, Germany and the UK’s University of Manchester  studied animals in which variation in a single gene dramatically speeds up the natural circadian cycle from 24 to 20 hours.

It is the first study to demonstrate of the value of having an internal body clock which beats in tune with the speed of the earth’s rotation.

The researchers released animals with 24 hour or 20 hour clocks into outdoor pens, with free access to food, and studied how the proportion of animals with fast clocks changed in the population over a period of 14 months.

the-planets-4-1155754This allowed the team to study the impact of clock-speed in context of the “real-world” rather than in captivity.

Mice with the 20-hour clock gradually become less common with successive generations, so that by the end of the study, the population was dominated by animals with “normal” 24h clocks.

This supports previous research which shows a connection between people who have abnormal body clocks because of things like night-shift work, and their chances of developing diseases like Type 2 diabetes.

But these studies now extend to the potential implications of space travel in the future. For instance, the Martian day is 37 minutes longer than that on earth.

Professor  Andrew Loudon, from The University of Manchester said:

“The rotation speed of Mars may be within the limits of some people’s internal clock, but people with short running clocks, such as extreme morning types, are likely to face serious intractable long-term problems, and would perhaps be excluded from any plans NASA has to send humans to Mars.

If we ever do get to the Red Planet, I suspect we will be faced with body clock problems; those people with abnormally slow body clocks would be best suited to living there.”

He added:

“A correctly ticking body clock is essential for normal survival in the wild, and this has to be in phase with the rotation speed of the earth.

“Animals with clocks that do not run in synchrony with earth are selected against.

“Thus, the body clock has evolved as an essential survival component for life on earth.”


Professor Loudon is available for comment

A copy of the paper Natural selection against a circadian clock gene mutation in mice is available. It is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Academics and the autistic community to collaborate on research projects

The interdisciplinary group, autism@manchester are looking to work with the autistic community to improve the effectiveness and impact of their research. Autism is a lifelong developmental condition that affects how the autistic person makes sense of and interacts with other people and the world around them, often causing them, and those affected by them, considerable difficulty, discomfort and anxiety.

autism@manchester involves autism researchers from the University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University and the NHS, as well as autistic individuals and parents of autistic children.  The group are concerned that the research they do should be relevant and of real advantage to those who live with the condition.  At the same time, many of those affected by autism feel disconnected from the very research that is supposed to be helping them, and voice concerns that researchers are not working on issues that are important to them.

This is why researchers from autism@manchester are very keen to involve those who live with autism in the research process and were awarded Welcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Funding to hold a series of three interactive workshops with members of the autistic community during November 2015. The project was run in partnership with Salfordautism, a local support group who work in the community to support autistic people and those around them. During the workshops, the autism@manchester team met with those who live with autism to discuss how best to work with the autism community in developing, choosing and designing research projects that would have real meaning for autistic people.

Emma Gowen, one the lead academics on the project, concludes:

“This was a highly challenging and exciting project to work on. One challenge was that the researchers involved were from a wide range of research disciplines – so we had to address communication barriers between the researchers as well as between researchers and the autism community. In the end, it all worked brilliantly! Everyone involved was very open and generous with their time and we learnt a lot from each other. It was a very enjoyable and encouraging interaction. However, this is only the beginning – we need to use the findings to develop some longer lasting initiatives”

Findings are currently being analysed and written up and will appear here when finished (http://www.autism.manchester.ac.uk/projectsandfindings/welcometrustworkshops/)

National Trust work experience launches

In partnership with the National Trust the Faculty of Life Sciences have launched a new work experience program giving undergraduate students an opportunity to get hands-on experience working with one of the UK’s largest conservation charities. The monthly events, organised by Amanda Bamford and Adam Hugill, led by Ashley Deane, a Manchester Biology Graduate and National Trust Ranger, each focus on a different area of conservation giving students a wide range of experiences.

IMG_3552

 

Shortly before Christmas, 14 Life Sciences students headed down to the National Trust site at Styal Mill for the first of these events focussing on fish passes and submerged camera technology. The students spent the morning learning about the importance of fish passes and got their hands dirty practising how to carry out the regular maintenance of the passes and how this affects its use by fish. After a chance to explore the site further the students braved the Manchester weather and carried out river surveys measuring river flow and their profiles working closely with Ashley, fellow ranger Claire Disley and Manchester PhD student Cecilia Medupin.

IMG_3604

The day was a great success with all involved looking forward to the resumption after the Christmas break:

Ashley Deane, National Trust Ranger:

“Having graduated from the same university with many of the same units I studied still available to study today I have put together the whole programme designed to offer opportunity for undergraduates to gain practical experience which will help them in extremely competitive jobs hunt. All the students seemed to thoroughly enjoy the day- in all a great day was had all round.’’

Charlie Hewitt, 2nd Year Biology Student:

“Ashley was great and her enthusiasm for her job made the event. It seems that she gets a lot out of what she does and has made me consider a similar role to hers for my own future.”

Amanda Bamford, Associate Dean for Social Responsibility:

”I am really delighted that we have been able to develop this exciting collaboration between our Faculty and the National Trust. This is a unique opportunity for our students to learn and work alongside National Trust rangers out in field, helping with the protection and care of habitats and wildlife and importantly gaining valuable work experience.”

Adam Hugill

If you are interested in one of the future events please contact Employability.FLS@manchester.ac.uk

 

Tuesday Feature Episode 33: Natalie Gardiner

Episode 33 of the Tuesday Feature highlights Natalie: someone who is doing fantastic research and making a real difference for gender equality here in FLS.


 

Please explain your research to the general public in about ten sentences or less.

I work on diabetic neuropathy a disorder that can affect the nervous system in diabetes. It is associated with a die-back of the nerve endings that supply skin, muscles and internal organs. This can lead to a whole host of symptoms – from unpleasant gastrointestinal and bladder problems to increased skin sensitivity and pain, often even the pressure of clothes or bed sheets can cause discomfort.  A loss of sensation can coincide with the die-back of the nerves, and this increases the chance of tissue damage and ulceration – which sadly often necessitates amputation of toes, feet or lower limbs.  In my lab we are characterising key changes that occur in gene, protein and metabolite levels in the peripheral nervous system in diabetes. We are interested in finding out what causes the nerve problems and are looking for ways to promote regeneration of damaged nerves and protect nerve function.

A Minute lecture on diabetic neuropathy by Olly Freeman, see recent paper in Diabetes

How does this research benefit the general public?

The World Health Organisation estimated that almost 1 in 10 adults worldwide have diabetes, and the incidence of diabetes is ever-increasing. Approximately half of all patients with diabetes will develop some form of diabetic neuropathy, from mild to more chronic. This can have a huge impact on health, happiness and quality of life. There is currently no treatment. Basic research is therefore needed to better understand diabetic neuropathy and ultimately develop an effective treatment that prevents or limits the progression of the disorder.

What are your other roles here in the Faculty?

I am currently the coordinator for the Women in Life Sciences (WiLS) group here in the faculty and also a member of the Equality and Diversity Leadership team and ATHENA SWAN self-assessment team. I first started going to the WiLS meetings when they were organised by Kathryn Else.  At this time, I had just returned to work after my first maternity leave and started my RCUK fellowship, so I had a lot to learn – how to manage a lab, how to get lab work done in time for nursery pick-up time, and how to cope with very little sleep! I found the WiLS meeting really helpful – learning new management skills and strategies, making new contacts and friends and forging new research collaborations.  Since taking over as coordinator I have organised several bespoke training programmes and workshops based on demand identified through suggestions and surveys (such as a 6-month Coaching and Leadership Program) and talks from internal/external speakers (such as Prof. Dame Athene Donald). I would particularly like to get more students and postdocs involved. Last year I worked with a number of very talented and enthusiastic undergraduates to arrange talks and create a great WiLS photoproject around the time of International Women’s Day. I am always looking for more ideas for workshop/meeting/International Women’s Day events– so if anyone has any suggestions please do email me.

How important is it for Women to be represented in life sciences?

Very! Life sciences does have a better gender balance than some other STEM areas, if you look at the profile of FLS from our ATHENA SWAN Silver renewal application you will see that women are generally well-represented (61% of our undergraduates, 50% of postgraduates and 51% of research staff are female). The proportions do decrease in academic positions and with seniority (32% of all academic staff in FLS are female; 17% of the professors are female),  but there are signs that this gap is narrowing (for example, an increase in the proportion of female senior lecturers/readers over the last 5 year from 18% to 37%) hopefully this will continue.

Do you have any science heroes? who inspired you to do science?

Not sure I particularly have a hero – I was always interested in life sciences and was strongly encouraged by my teachers to study Biology at University. I caught the research bug during my final year project and decided to do a PhD.  I greatly enjoyed the Royal Institutional Christmas lectures given by Nancy Rothwell, and this helped convince me to pursue a career in neuroscience.  After some time doing postdoc positions in London, I moved to Manchester and Nancy became my mentor during my RCUK fellowship!  I try to mention the work of Rita Levi-Montalcini in undergraduate lectures – a key woman in neuroscience! During World War II, her academic career was halted by Mussolini’s ‘Manifesto of Race’ so she responded by setting up a research lab in a bedroom in her parents’ house to study nerve development. She moved to a lab in the US in 1946 and six years later isolated Nerve Growth Factor – a factor which promotes nerve development, survival and regeneration. She shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for her role in this discovery.

How has working in Manchester helped you?

Manchester has a great research environment and people are willing to collaborate, so I have got to do work that I would not have been able to do elsewhere. The support facilities, and most importantly the people who run these facilities, are fantastic – a great source of advice.

Finally, what do you do outside of work?

I have two young sons which means that home life is loud and busy.  We try and burn off energy at the weekends going walking, kicking/throwing/hitting balls around and recently by digging – as we have just taken on the challenge of an overgrown allotment.


 

 

 

Offspring less likely to nag generous mothers

  • Pups don’t continue asking for more if they are already well provided
  • Findings applicable to any social species, including humans

5694104161-8e91dcbf8f-z

If a mother is already a generous provider, her offspring will nag her less, according to new research on mice by University of Manchester scientists.

The study, published in eLife, uncovers a fitness cost to begging for care, so pups don’t continue asking for more if they are already well provided. Pups that spend more time soliciting for care weigh less than those who are more easily satisfied.

Although the study was conducted on mice, the findings are applicable to any social species, including humans

Faculty evolutionary scientist Reinmar Hager says:

Our aim was to unpick the genetic conflict between the care a parent provides and the amount that offspring want,”

“If offspring are too demanding it can be costly to parents and to themselves. But if parents don’t invest enough, their genes may not survive the next generation,

The level of maternal care was measured as the sum of nursing, suckling and nest building behaviour. One of the most important roles of a mouse parent is to keep offspring warm. Hypothermia is the leading cause of death in pups.

A key part of the study looked at how genes expressed in offspring influence their mother’s behaviour. For the first time, the researchers were able to show that genes expressed in offspring affect maternal behaviour.

During their analysis, the researchers identified genetic variation in pups that influences nest-building by mothers. If a pup carries a specific variation of a gene on chromosome 7, from its sixth day of life its mother or adoptive mother will spend more time gathering nesting material and using it to construct and repair a nest.

Similarly, if a pup carries a specific variation on chromosome 5, from day 14 mothers show increased levels of maternal behaviour. This is a crucial time for pups as it is around the time when ‘weaning conflict’ is expected to be at its height – the battle between a developing pup’s desire to continue to nurse and a mother’s desire to stop is waged until pups are fully weaned at three weeks.

PhD Student David Ashbrook says:

“For the first time we have identified specific genetic variations in offspring that lead to preferential maternal treatment, which in turn improves offspring fitness,”

“There will therefore be a strong selection pressure on genes expressed in offspring that influence parental behaviour,”

However, all genotypes benefited from the extra investment by mothers genetically predisposed to give better quality care, known as the B6 maternal phenotype.


 

The paper ‘Genetic variation in offspring indirectly influences the quality of maternal behaviour in mice’ can be freely accessed online at http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.11814. Contents, including text, figures, and data, are free to re¬use under a CC BY 4.0 license

Heart is fishy defence against ocean’s Dead Zones

New research has revealed how the heart is one of the major factors which determine whether a fish lives or dies in oceanic Dead Zones.

Dr Holly Shiels, a Senior Lecturer in Animal Physiology at The University of Manchester, says the findings may explain why some fish are able to survive harsh environmental conditions better than others.

The research, published with Open Access in the journal Biology Letters, may help in the battle to understand why fish stocks dwindle in polluted marine environments with low oxygen levels – known as hypoxia.

Hypoxia, says Dr Shiels, is a growing problem in coastal environments, and is likely have enduring impacts on aquatic ecosystems and the fish that live within them.

sea bass one

There are over 400 so called  “Dead Zones” worldwide, areas where  aquatic life is limited or  completely absent largely because there isn’t enough  oxygen to support it

But by studying the European Sea Bass, an important commercial and ecological marine fish, the Manchester scientists, in collaboration with Guy Claireaux’s group at Ifremer in France, have identified a link between hypoxia-survival and the fish heart.

They think this link is important in understanding how fish tolerate harsh environments.

First the team revealed that hypoxia-tolerance is a stable trait – during repeated hypoxic-challenges over the 18 month study, certain fish in a population were consistently more tolerant of hypoxia compared with others.

They then went on to show that fish who tolerated hypoxia had hypoxia-tolerant hearts.  This prompted Dr Shiels’ team  to suggest that the heart and the cardiovascular system is a crucial survival factor.

Dr Shiels said:

“We were able to show that hypoxia tolerant hearts in fish correlates with a whole body effect. In other words, not only is the heart more resilient to hypoxia, but the fish as a whole is.”

Although fish don’t breathe as humans do with lungs and air, they still take in oxygen through their gills. So when oxygen in water is reduced, fish struggle to breath just as humans would on top of a mountain, where the air is thin.

Hypoxic Dead Zone can occur naturally, but their recent increase in size and distribution is often caused by human input of nutrients into the water, encouraging plant growth and algal blooms. The extra organic matter dies, sinks to the bottom and decays, creating hypoxic conditions.

Dr Shiels concludes:

“Our work is timely as hypoxia is a pervasive and rapidly growing problem in coastal environments world wide. Our study suggests the hypoxia-tolerance of the fish cardiovascular system may be key in determining fish distribution and survival in the changing oceans.”


 

The full paper, published today in Biology Letters, is available on request.

Tuesday Feature episode 32: Liz Toon

Please explain your research for the general public.

I do a whole bunch of different kinds of research, with most of it focused around issues of women’s health and relationships between patients and doctors. One of the projects that I’ve been working on for a while is a history of breast cancer treatment and experience in 20th century Britain. What I want to know is how has treatment changed in Britain over the course of the last century, but also how has the experience of being treated for breast cancer changed.

In relation to my research, I am working on a newer project on women’s cancer screening and prevention.  Basically the project is about how interventions like cervical smears and the mammograms became expected parts of women’s healthcare. I am looking at how interventions become a way for women to think about the status of their health in their everyday lives; part of this looks at how these types of treatments were built into the National Health Service.

How does this research benefit the general public?

Breast cancer services in the UK are often used as a proxy for the state of Britain’s commitment to women’s healthcare and I want to know how this came to be. The project will also explain why certain practices are organised the way that they are, for example, you get cervical cancer screenings from your GP whereas you get breast cancer screenings through specialised centres and so my research hopes to answer how this happened. I think we all need to know why our healthcare system is set up this way.

The project also allows me to understand how everyday people receive health care; it gives me the ability to understand what it is like for patients who have to go through the current health care system in comparison to patients from earlier in the 20thcentury and how these changes in practices affect the patient.

How did you first get interested in the history of science and medicine?

Well it’s sort of a long path. I started out, like many people in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, really interested in science as a kid. I used to like to read old medical books and old science books. I actually went to University in the US and I wanted to become a research biologist. I loved working in the lab but I was not so good at other elements of research and at the same time I found that what I really cared about was the history of science and medicine. Doing History is great for the curious, because it’s basically reading other people’s mail!

I worked for a while as a technical writer and then I went onto graduate school in history and sociology of science. At that point I decided I actually wanted to look at how it is that everyday people learn about science and medicine.

Did you have any science heroes growing up? Who inspired you?

I was a big reader as a kid and I loved reading biographies of scientists and I especially loved reading biographies of women scientists; Marie Curie of course, but lots of others too. Like a lot of people of my age group and that are American, the thing that really did it for me was Carl Sagan and Cosmos. I realised later that this was partly because he didn’t really just tell you the scientific information, but he gave you a really good picture of how that information came to be. He made it clear that you have to understand the history to really understand the present and the future and I think he was terrific at that!

How has working here in Manchester helped you?

It’s helped me a lot to work here in Manchester, especially at the Centre for History of Science, Technology and Medicine, because CHSTM is internationally known with a really strong sense of cross-discipline collaborations. I have great colleagues and there are a lot of elective and joint projects that we have going on and it’s really good in that sense because as a historian a lot of the work that you do is individual. When you sit in the archives you’re looking at papers on your own but being able to do historical projects whilst working with other people is really special. Manchester has been great!

Manchester has also been really great because there’s a lot of interest all over the University in the human elements of medicine. I have colleagues in Humanities, in Medicine and Human Sciences, and here in Life Sciences, that are not historians, who all want to think about the more human experience side of biomedicine. In fact, we’ve started a new group that’s called the Medical Humanities laboratory and that is bringing together those people from all over the University to look at the relationships between art, history and science.

What do you do outside of work?

Anyone who follows my Twitter Feed will know that I am a very avid knitter and crafter. I probably tweet as much about knitting as I do about history!

Anyone who has come to a CHSTM seminar will have probably seen me knitting during the seminar itself because it really does help me concentrate better. It allows me to get my nervous energy out by knitting a sock whilst I try to think of a question to ask. I also read a lot of mystery novels and, of course, I do a lot of things like travelling and visiting museums.

Manchester: The European City of Science – ‘Science as Revolution’

2016 marks the year that Manchester becomes the European City of Science (ECOS). It builds upon the city’s already rich heritage and promises to put Manchester at the centre of science in the UK and Europe.

aerialviewFrom the discovery of the atom and the creation of the first stored-programme computer to cutting edge biotechnology and cancer research, Manchester has been at the forefront of science. 2016 celebrates our prestigious past and is a launching pad to the future where Manchester is surely going to play a central part of the next scientific revolution.

The European City of Science (ECOS) designation is awarded to the place which will be hosting the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF). The forum has delegates from all over the world including people who have great influence in their spheres from business leaders and policy makers, to cutting edge scientists. The conference aims to discuss current events and to propose a vision for the future of European science. Manchester, being the home for the conference whose motto this year is ‘Science as Revolution’, will be best placed to lead Europe into a new era in science.

Manchester follows in the footsteps of Barcelona, Munich and Stockholm by holding ECOS and being the hub for scientific activity in Europe. Registration for the conference is now open.

The aim is also to inspire young people, engage with the local community in Greater Manchester and to provide a platform for exciting science engagement and involvement. Science can often be seen as inaccessible by many, but Manchester aims to remove barriers by offering a range of inspiring and interactive events as part of the ‘Science in the City Festival’ which will run alongside ESOF. This festival will run from 23rd – 29th July and will be an opportunity for everyone to see and maybe take part in the incredible science from the University of Manchester.

On this landmark year, Amanda Bamford, the ECOS lead for the FLS says:

“This is a unique opportunity for our scientists to not only engage with their peers from across the globe but also showcase their science to the world’s media and to engage with our citizens across Manchester. It will be a year of fabulous and exciting science!”

Have a look out for some amazing science events that are happening across the city in the coming year. Go to the Manchester: City of Science website to keep on top of the events.

Season’s Greetings – E. Coli Plate

Anne Wilkinson from the Stopford Labs, has created a snowflake using Escherichia Coli (E. coli 165) grown on an Eosin Methylene Blue agar. The shiny blue/green colour of the snowflake is produced when the E. coli, which is a lactose fermentor, produces acids that precipitate out the methylene blue in the agar medium.

e coli

Tuesday Feature episode 31: Franciska De Vries

In episode 31 of the Tuesday Feature we question Franciska about all things soil.


 

Please can you briefly explain your research in simple terms?

I look at how plants and soils interact. Plants pump carbon into the soil and there are lots of microbes and other organisms in the soils which use this carbon to perform important processes, they release nutrients for plants to use and I study how that works. Mainly I look at how feedbacks and processes respond to climate change and land-use change.

How does this research benefit the general public?

It’s important to know how ecosystems will respond to climate change and other future changes such as land-use change. Ecosystems provide valuable functions and deliver important services such as food production and carbon sequestration for climate mitigation.  We look at how soils will be able to continue under climate change which underpins society and human life. We need to eat and food comes from the soil in one way or another!

How did you first become interested in soils?

When I was doing my undergraduate degree at Wageningen University in the Netherlands I had a really good lecturer who gave particularly interesting lectures on soil biodiversity,  I guess it was from there that I discovered how interesting soil science really is. I just really wanted to learn more!

Did you have any science heroes growing up? Who inspired you?

I went to study environmental studies for my undergraduate degree because I wanted to save the world. I wanted to be a scientist on a green peace ship so it actually turned out all differently. I didn’t really have a big hero – I just wanted to save the world.

How has working in Manchester helped you?

Massively – it’s just a really inspiring environment and there are a lot of very good people that are really supportive in anything you want to do. I have had a lot of support; particularly for my grant applications and it really is a great place to work.

What do you do outside of work?

I do a lot of sports: I like to mountain bike, run and climb. Sport is kind of in the background now because I have a one year old that takes up all my time.

 

Secrets of the Animal Mummies.

Ancient Egypt is known throughout the world as one of the birthplaces of civilisation, thriving along the banks of the Nile for nearly three millennia. Perhaps the most fascinating and iconic aspect of Egyptian culture, besides the monumental pyramids they built, was the practise of mummification.

Mummification means the preservation of deceased humans and animals, usually by applying mixtures of chemicals in a process known as embalming. The Egyptians believed the body needed to be preserved in order for a being to reach the afterlife and live for eternity, and so mummified both humans and animals on a scale unparalleled in human history.

While the mummies of pharaohs and the treasures that filled their tombs draw millions to museum exhibits around the world, less attention has been given to the mummies of animals. The Egyptians held animals and nature in tremendous regard, and many of their gods were depicted as animals. Many Egyptians even worshipped living animals, as physical representations of their gods on Earth. The mummification of animals was thus a deeply important part of Ancient Egyptian culture.

The work by Doctors Lidija McKnight and Stephanie Atherton-Woolham of the Faculty of Life Sciences looks at mummified animals that were given as religious offerings to the gods of Ancient Egypt, known as ‘votive offerings’. The Egyptians made these offerings in their millions, and archaeologists are still discovering more of them today. Using advanced techniques such as radiography, CT scans and chemical fingerprints, these FLS researchers have been able to unlock the secrets of animal mummies and the mummification process, and give us amazing new insights into Ancient Egyptian culture and society. They have even been able to discover what the climate was like in ancient times, based on the types of animals that have been found.

Lidija and Stephanie’s work is currently on display in an exhibit at the Manchester Museum, ‘Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies Revealed’. The exhibit includes numerous examples of mummified animals, such as crocodiles, cats and birds, as well as some beautiful Egyptian relics, artwork and even a simulated CT scanner!

The exhibit lasts until 17th April 2016, and entry is free. The science behind the exhibit can also be seen in the latest episode of the Life Science Broadcast, available here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hztZ1MijB10″>https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hztZ1MijB10

Faculty scientist wins prestigious life science enterprise award

Dr David Brough was recently named the Bionow Promising Technologist of the year at the 14th annual Bionow Awards.

Bionow is an organisation that helps support business growth and innovation in the biomedical and life science sector. The award ceremony highlights the best technologies and individuals that are present in the north of the UK.

Brough Award

David was recognised for developing and driving the translation of his research findings of a new class of potential therapeutic drugs. The drugs specifically targeted a molecule called NLRP3 and could help with central nervous system inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease. His work has led to a recently patented class of compounds that enables specific control of damaging inflammatory reactions.

David adds:

 “I was delighted to accept this award on behalf of our team in the brain inflammation group and in the School of Pharmacy. We now know that the process of inflammation contributes to the worsening of neurodegenerative disease. Our goal is to understand the biology of inflammation, and through improved understanding, develop new ways to target disease causing mechanisms.”

On the awards as a whole, Dr Geoff Davison, Chief Executive Officer of Bionow, commented:

“The 14th Annual Bionow Awards Dinner has been our best yet and we would like to congratulate all of the award winners and thank the sponsors for their continued support. We were delighted to spend the evening celebrating the achievements in our sector which showcases the strength and breadth of the sector in the North and demonstrating how we can contribute to the Northern Powerhouse.”