Pancreatic Cancer Research – Video

Watch a short video about Dr Jason Bruce’s research into Pancreatic Cancer.

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.

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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)

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.”

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

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!

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/

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.

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!”

 

 

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

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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.

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

 

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/)

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

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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.

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

Tuesday Feature Episode 18: Ciara Stafford

Episode 18 of our Tuesday Feature is with Ciara Stafford, a PhD student who looks at how Monkeys and humans coexist! Ciara gets the chance to spend a lot of time out in the Ecuadorian Amazon researching this. We had a quick chat with her about her research, how it can help us here in the UK, and what it’s like doing a PhD in Manchester!

Can you explain your research for the layman in ten sentences or less?DSC_0048

I work in the Amazon rain forest. I’m particularly interested in what happens when animals share the same habitat with indigenous communities that are still dependent on the forest for a living. So are the animals benefited by the people being there? Are they exploited by the people being there? Do people value them, care about them? Do people know that these animals are actually living around them?  So I’m particularly interested in primates because it’s been shown that throughout a lot of the Amazon that they’ve been over-exploited and they’ve been having a bit of a tough time recently. The idea is that if we can understand some of these relationships between people and wildlife, we can make much better conservation decisions; it’s been shown that conservation works a lot better if you work with people rather than against them.

How can your research benefit the person reading this blog?

I think it’s really easy to think that the stuff that goes on in the rainforest with monkeys has no relevance to say wildlife issues in the UK, but if you actually look at what the core problems are between people and wildlife here, a lot of them are exactly the same. Even though it might sound I’m doing research in the middle of nowhere, the issues that I’m tackling are a lot of the same of the conservation issues we have here.

How did you first get interested in primates and conservation?

I don’t know – I kind of wanted to be a zoologist as long as I can remember. When I was little I had this obsession with those little Early Learning Centre animals and there are pictures of me on camping trips – next to my sleeping bags there are these little rows of marine mammals and I would refuse to go anywhere without. I liked animals – I was never particularly interested in primates (which sounds pretty bad) but all that I knew was that when I work outside, I’m really happy and when I work with animals I’m really interested in them. I think that if you have a PhD that’s going to have field work – regardless if that’s in the middle of the rainforest or whether that’s in a reserve that’s 20 minutes from Norwich, it’s going to be adventure! You won’t know what’s going to happen next and that’s really exciting.

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

Science heroes – there’s a guy down at the UEA (University of East Anglia) in Norfolk, Carlos Perez; he’s basically a legend of neo-tropical primates (primates that live in Brazil and Ecuador and other places that I go to). The guy has put in some serious hours traipsing around the rainforest and has put out some really cool papers. I don’t think you really do that unless you love what you do – so yeah, he’s a bit of a science hero.

How has working in Manchester helped you?

Manchester is generally just a great place to do a PhD. You get a lot of support from the staff and we also have a lot of brilliant links with a University out in Ecuador which we collaborate with. They run the research stations and it’s the whole reason that I’m able to go there.

What do you outside of work?

It’s going to sound really sad because I’m like animals – animals, animals, animals all the time, but I draw. Mainly birds and things like that. I also spend a lot of time down in Norwich, which is where my boyfriend is, and he’s a RSPB warden and I’m a bit obsessed with Fens so every weekend that I’m there, I go down to the Nature reserve to have a look at what we can find.

Ciara also recently did a Minute Lecture with us – check it out here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHmBOuPwyQc

Awards for Venturing Further

Two businesses that were established by Faculty Alumni have been awarded financial prizes as part of the prestigious Venture Further competition. The companies, Joy and Joe Ltd. and Metriculate won £10,000 and £2,500 respectively.

The annual competition, hosted by the Manchester Enterprise Centre, allowed students and alumni to showcase their businesses with the hope of securing financial rewards. The awards were split into four categories: business, social, digital and research. Joy and Joe won the business category for their innovative ‘kangaroo care’ carrier. The product, designed to help facilitate the kangaroo care technique in infants, has proven to be extremely popular. The all-British company was established by Olumayowa Osundeko, who finished his PhD in Biotechnology last year. He says:

“We would like to invest the £10,000 into developing our packaging, which is at the moment only really suitable for online customers and we intend to launch the product on the high street later this year. We’d also like to develop our accessory range.

We’ve gained a lot from entering Venture Further and the team at the Manchester Enterprise Centre has taught us a lot about how to present our product and howto build our brand. We’ve also gathered useful tips and trends to look out for as our business grows.”

In the digital category, second place went to Metriculate, a company that was established with the help of Mark Ashworth, who completed a PhD in Biochemistry. The company helps design intelligent lab management tools for research. The three man team are now looking at ways to use the £2,500 to further expand their business.

Award Winners