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!

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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

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.