Pancreatic Cancer Research – Video

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

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.

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.

 

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

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.”

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!”

 

 

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

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.

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/)

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.

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.”

 

Discovered: A cluster of 60 proteins that help cells move and feel

Faculty scientists have discovered a cluster of 60 proteins that allow the body’s cells to react to their environment and communicate with each other.

Professor Martin Humphries, who led the research team said:

Our findings on how cells sense their environment have unlocked an important key to understanding how we can persuade cells to form different tissues and how we might stop cell movement in diseases such as cancer.

Cells react differently to materials that are hard or soft, rigid or elastic. For example, stem cells on a hard surface develop into bone cells, while the same cells on a very soft surface make nerve cells.

word cloud
Word cloud art work which shows all the proteins identified by the analysis. They have been scaled by the number of times they were observed in the analysis so that the larger text indicates the 60 proteins highlighted by the paper.

Similarly, cells, including tumour cells, tend to move more rapidly on hard surfaces compared to soft surfaces. The ways in which cells sense this difference in their environment remains a mystery.

The research revolves around integrins -– a family of proteins that were discovered in the 1980s and are essential for cell growth and function.

Integrins, which are a building block of complex life, are found at the outer edge of cells and encourage proteins to assemble around them when they interact with the outside environment.

The team carried out complex experiments to understand the workings of the integrin protein clusters using mass spectrometry, and assembled a list of all the proteins in the system.

One member of the team, Dr Adam Byron, assembled similar data from across the world and distilled it into a list of 60 proteins that cluster around integrins.

Another member of the research team, Ed Horton, said:

After assimilating all the complex data which was available, we were surprised that only 60 proteins were the essential mediators of the information exchange between integrins and the outside world.

So there is now a consensus view: integrins work closely with at least 60 proteins to coordinate many functions including cancer cell migration.

And fellow researcher Dr Jon Humphries said:

Understanding how cells sense their environment is an important step in understanding how, for example, cancer cells move or how stem cells take on different jobs.


An electronic copy of the paper, Definition of a consensus integrin adhesome and its dynamics during adhesion complex assembly and disassembly, is available on request.

Faculty scientist wins prestigious Optometry award

The College of Optometrists is the professional, scientific and examining body for optometry in the UK, recently recognised the achievements of the most talented researchers working in the field at its annual Diploma Ceremony at the Central Hall in Westminster, London on Tuesday 10th November. Four individuals and a research team were presented with a College Research Excellence Award in recognition of their outstanding contribution to vision science, eye health care and to the profession.

We are delighted to announce that Dr Hema Radhakrishnan MCOptom, received the Neil Charman Medal for Research, the most prestigious of the five awards, for her pioneering work on ocular accommodation and collagen cross linking.

She said:Picture by www.edwardmoss.co.uk All rights reserved College of optometrists  diploma awards 2015, London.

I was delighted to receive the Neil Charman medal for research. The Research Excellence Awards recognise the outstanding research that is done by College members. It was amazing to see so many excellent researchers from across the globe being handed these awards and Life Fellowships. On the day, when the streets around Westminster were lined with poppies, we had our own affirmation of how we are able to see much further in our profession by standing on the shoulders of giants.

This is the first time that the award has been made to a Manchester researcher and is the highest profile research prize in Optometry in the UK.  This award follows on from a previous research excellence award from the College of Optometrists in 2011 when Dr Radhakrishnan was given The Bernard Gilmartin award  for having the most highly regarded research paper in Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, the journal of the College of Optometrists.

Research shows rice has been domesticated three times

Rice – the staple food source of around 50% of the World’s population, has been domesticated on three separate occasions, according to a new study by Faculty scientists.

The work could be used to educate better rice grain improvement projects, something that may prove crucial with growing environmental concerns.

The study focused on three major types of rice: the long-grain Indica which is non-sticky and mainly found in tropical lowland Asia; Japonica a short-grain rice that produces sticky rice, like the one in sushi and Aus, the drought-tolerant variety that grows in Bangladesh.

Before this study, researchers had thought rice may have been domesticated once or perhaps twice. Scientists had looked at Japonica and Indica because they have had the longest history of cultivation. Some argue that Japonica came first around 10,000 years ago and that Indica emerged as a hybrid form of it a little later. Others contend that both Japonica and Indica have separate domestication events.

However, new analysis from Professor Terry Brown, Dr Peter Civan and colleagues add a third domestication event to the mix by showing evidence that Aus was also domesticated separately in a region from India to Bangladesh.

The team looked at genetic data from 446 samples of different wild rice to see how similar Aus is to Indica and Japonica. In most cases, Aus was not similar enough to be explained by a single domestication event. More specifically, they looked at ‘domestication sweeps’ which are specific parts of the genome that differ from wild types and that scientists believe were chosen by early farmers because they had a great advantage to growing more grain. For example, the sweep region includes the ability for rice plants to grow more vertically and so can be planted more densely.

Brown and the team say that the genetic evidence that they have collected shows that these advantageous genes were present in a number of wild type rice varieties that were widely distributed across South Asia. It is therefore possible for farmers from three separate locations to select these wild types with the ideal genes and begin to cultivate them.

But why the big deal about rice? Well rice is thought to have brought about the great civilisations in Asia and led the way for large-scale agriculture to take place. Rice acted as a reliable food source and so large numbers of humans could gather to form large villages and settlements. Understanding how rice was domesticated would allow scientists to get a better understanding of how civilisations grew and moved across Asia.

Professor Brown concludes:

Our conclusions are in accord with archaeological evidence that suggests widespread origins of rice cultivation. We therefore anticipate that our results will stimulate a more productive collaboration between genetic and archaeological studies of rice domestication.


Civáň, P., H. Craig, et al. (2015). “Three geographically separate domestications of Asian rice.” Nature Plants 1: 15164.

Fly method is epilepsy’s ray of light

A revolutionary new approach developed by Faculty scientists has for the first time shown that epilepsy could be preventable.

Professor Richard Baines and Dr Carlo Giachello used a genetically-altered fruit fly to show that when nervous system activity is suppressed by shining yellow light through its embryo, it will not go on to develop symptoms of the disease when it gets older.

Though the procedure has only been used on flies, the team believe the Medical Research Council funded research proves that the development of Epilepsy can be stopped in its tracks if treated early enough.

However, the technique developed and tested over three-years and published in Current Biology, will not benefit individuals who already have epilepsy.

Professor Baines said:

“We’re excited by this discovery which we believe is proof of principle and a milestone in the way we understand epilepsy – though clearly more research is needed in mammals.

But if these findings are taken to their logical conclusion, then we might envisage the possibility of being able to treat individuals at an early enough stage so they do not go on to develop the symptoms of epilepsy.

After all, amazing though it might seem, the underlying biology of the central nervous system is the same in humans as it is in flies.”

People who suffer from genetic epilepsy, experience a period in the disease’s development called the epileptogenic process, the process which causes a brain to develop epilepsy.

Scientists have already discovered that starting treatment with antiepileptic drugs during the epileptogenic process will delay the inevitable onset of seizures.

However, this new procedure, which starts treatment during embryonic development and uses light rather than drugs to manipulate nervous system activity , seems to permanently prevent seizures altogether.

Flies do not have spontaneous seizures like humans – however according to the team, there is no reason to suggest that the effect would be any different.

The technique expresses a gene called halorhodopsin – an ‘optogenetic’ tool which allows yellow light to control cells in living tissue.

Dr Giachello added:

“By using this optogenetic tool, we found that if we prevent nervous system activity at a time when the fly embryo is between 80 and 90% fully developed, seizures stop entirely.

Optogenetics is a recent development in biology which is causing quite a bit of excitement, not just in the treatment of epilepsy but other illnesses too.”

Scientists have identified many genes that make humans predisposed to epilepsy. The identification of these genes makes it possible to screen for the disease before it starts and, as this new research shows, it might be possibly to intervene to prevent it.

Snake unlikely to have killed Cleopatra

Academics at The University of Manchester have dismissed the long-held argument that the ancient Egyptian queen Cleopatra was killed by a snake bite.

cleopatraAndrew Gray, Curator of Herpetology at Manchester Museum, says venomous snakes in Egypt –  Cobras or Vipers – would have been too large to get unseen into the queen’s palace.

He was speaking  to Egyptologist Dr Joyce Tyldesley in a new video which is part of a new online course introducing ancient Egyptian history, using six items from the Museum’s collection.

According to Dr Tyldesley, the ancient accounts say a snake hid in a basket of figs brought in from the countryside, and was also used to kill one or two of her serving maids.

But according to Andrew Gray, Cobras are typically 5 to 6 feet long but can grow up to 8 feet – too big to hide very easily.

There would also be too little time to kill 2 or 3 people-  because snake venom kills you slowly-  with in any case only a 10 per cent chance of death.

He said:

Not only are Cobras too big, but  there’s just a 10 per cent chance you would die from a  snake bite: most bites are dry bites that don’t inject venom.

That’s not to say they aren’t dangerous: the venom causes necrosis and will certainly kill you, but quite slowly

so it would be impossible to use a snake to kill  2 or 3 people one after the other. Snakes use venom to protect themselves and for hunting – so they conserve their venom and use it in times of need.

Cleopatra is strongly associated with snakes, like many ancient Egyptian kings and queens of Egypt. In addition, Cleopatra also believed she was the embodiment of the Goddess Isis, who can take on the form of a snake.

Dr Tyldesley, who’s book Cleopatra: Egypt’s Last Queen was a BBC Radio 4 book of the week, says one aspect of the accounts has proved to be correct. The ancient Egyptians believed snakes were good mothers.

Very few snakes have a maternal instinct. However, the cobra is an exception: they sit on the nest and protect them until they hatch. So in this case, it seems the Egyptians were right.

The free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), ‘A History of Ancient Egypt’, launches on 26 October.

Dr Tyldesley added:

The MOOC includes behind-the-scenes access at the Museum and detailed descriptions of many objects from our Egypt and Sudan collection.

How flies are making their way into classrooms

Scientists have a problem: they find it hard to convey their knowledge and the importance of their research to the general public and, making time for this, clearly adds to the challenge. Sure, programmes like Stargazing Live and Big Blue Live are helping lead a fresh wave of interest in science, but they often focus on popular events or topics which have already made it into the limelight of interest. Faculty researchers at the Manchester Fly Facility are coming up with novel strategies to reach the public aiming to enthuse about less known topics, in their case the importance of Drosophila research.

Drosophila is better known as the fruit fly. It has been used in the research for 5 Nobel Prizes in Physiology and Medicine and over 100,000 scientific papers have been written about it. Its importance to science cannot be overstated and yet it is hardly taught in schools and its significance is little known by the general public. The Manchester Fly Facility addresses this unfortunate shortcoming with a series of well-designed resources for teachers inspiring them to use the fly as a powerful modern teaching tool for curriculum-relevant topics in biology lessons, and in this way to reach broad young audiences.

Professor Andrea Prokop states:

Drosophila is the conceptually best understood animal we have, it is used by over ten thousand scientists worldwide for cutting edge research, and it is easy to keep in schools for captivating, memorable experiments that bring life into classrooms. In a nutshell, flies have all the ingredients to convey conceptual understanding of biology as well as the thrill and relevance of science as a subject and future career perspective.

The team so far have built an impressive portfolio of teaching resources including fully developed lessons with support information,  two animated YouTube videos explaining the history and importance of fly research (below), a computer game, a dedicated web page with support information for schools, and they have built a repository listing hundreds of further educational resources available online. All resources are explained in greater detail in a recent blog by Andreas Prokop, and they are clearly picking up in popularity as indicated by the many views and shares of the various internet pages.

The resources are built on long-standing experiences that the team has with school visits, where Drosophila is always a warmly greeted guest. This approach has now been taken to the next level with the “droso4schools” project. On this project, doctoral students went into two schools, Trinity CoE High School and Loreto Sixth Form College, to work as teaching assistance for months. This allowed the team to develop an understanding of the biology curriculum and school realities, to then use this knowledge and develop biology lessons in which Drosophila is being uses as a powerful modern teaching tool, made memorable through simple but telling experiments with living flies.

flyone
Flies are kept in small vials with a bit of food at the bottom: ideal for maintaining them even in schools.

Surita Lawes, Head of Science and Maths Faculty at Loreto College, said about a lesson on genetics and alcohol developed at her school:

By studying mutations in Drosophila, our students have been exploring how alcohol and human culture affects our genetic make-up. It’s an excellent way for teachers to meet the challenge of revising many areas of the new linear syllabus using a topic designed to spark an interest.

Also students loved the new way of teaching. After an experimental session using a simple climbing assay comparing the performance of old versus young flies, Tof Apampa from Trinity High said :

Having the flies in the classroom was good fun.  It was so clear to see how the old flies were less mobile then the young ones.  We then learnt how this can help us understand aging in humans.  It also showed in a really clear way how using a large sample size is important when we are looking for patterns in scientific data.

The Fly Facility is looking to pave the way to make science more relevant and accessible than ever before – and they’re doing it with the humble fruit fly.

flytwo
A simple, 5-10 minute colour reaction experiment demonstrating the genetics behind enzyme activity. Click to enlarge.

Flies can make a buzz in schools

Professor Andreas Prokop and colleague Sanjai Patel say the fruit fly – or Drosophila –  can be used as a modern teaching tool to explain many biological concepts used in the school curriculum.

In a UK first, the scientists based at the University’s Manchester Fly Facility have launched droso4schools – a website with sample lessons and teaching resources for schools.

Professor Prokop said:

Fruit flies are a fantastic resource for schools as Drosophila is the conceptually best understood animal there is.

“It is used by over ten thousand scientists worldwide for cutting edge research, and it is easy to keep in schools for captivating, exciting experiments which bring life into the classroom.

According to the researchers, the flies are easy and cheap to breed;  the equivalent of London’s population can be kept on a handful of laboratory trays.

The project website contains supporting documents and additional information to engage students who want to know more about Drosophila and help teachers who want to use flies in their lessons.

He explained:

“Currently we have resources for teaching classical genetics, statistical analysis of experiments, concepts of nervous system function, the gene to protein concept, principles of enzyme function, genetic variation and Darwinian evolution. All with flies,” h

He has even created a computer game where flies develop from eggs and spawn against time and parasites. To play the game visit https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/74443210

To adapt resources to teachers’ needs, Prokop and Sanjai supervised two PhD students, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, who worked as teaching assistants in two Manchester schools

The students then developed biology sample lessons in close collaboration with the teachers which can be downloaded from the droso4schools website

The lessons continue to be used in the two schools: Loretto college and Trinity Church of England High school

Professor Prokop added

Flies have all the ingredients to convey conceptual understanding of biology as well as the thrill and relevance of science as a subject and future career perspective.

Surita Lawes, Head of Faculty at Loreto Sixth Form College, who is also a biology teacher, said: “By studying mutations in Drosophila, our students have been exploring how alcohol and human culture affects our genetic make-up. It’s an excellent way for teachers to meet the challenge of revising many areas of the new linear syllabus using a topic designed to spark an interest.”

Tof Apampa, a student at Trinity Church of England High School said:

It was great having the PhD student working with us.  We learnt about what we can study at university and how fruit flys can help scientists explain how the human body works.

Having the flies in the classroom was good fun.  It was so clear to see how the old flies were less mobile then the young ones.

We then learnt how this can help us understand aging in humans.  It also showed in a really clear way how using a large sample size is important when we are looking for patterns in scientific data.


If you want know how and why fruit flies became so important for biology research, Prokop and Patel have even created two very entertaining educational YouTube videos.

For more information visit http://www.flyfacility.ls.manchester.ac.uk/forthepublic/

To download the teaching packs and support information for teachers, visit the droso4schools website:https://droso4schools.wordpress.com

All school resources including computer game and YouTube videos are explained and summarised on this blog: https://poppi62.wordpress.com/2015/08/28/school-flies

FLS staff contribute to National Climate Change Report Card

Two Faculty scientists are helping to shape policy by submitting scientific evidence to the latest National Biodiversity Climate Change Report card. Ecologists Professor Richard Bardgett and Dr Franciska De Vries have both been asked to contribute to the report which summarises the latest scientific evidence and understanding of how climate change is affecting UK biodiversity. The card itself shows where observed changes are likely to have been caused by changes in the UK climate over recent decades, and assesses potential future impacts of climate change on biodiversity.

Dr De Vries says:

This report card is important because it shows, at a glance, how UK biodiversity is already being affected by climate change. It shows which ecosystems and groups of organisms are most vulnerable to future changes , and this information is important if we want to act on climate change and protect UK biodiversity.

It is important that we take action to protect UK biodiversity against the effects of future climate change, because many ecosystem services depend on the diversity and composition of communities present. The report card includes potential ways for adaptation to climate change. For example, it is now clear that the way we manage land influences how species populations and communities respond to climate change.

It is hoped that reports such as these will give governments a clearer picture on what actions should be taken to protect our environment.


A link to the report can be found here (pdf)

Faculty of Life Sciences awarded the Athena Swan Silver Award

The Faculty of Life Sciences are proud to announce that they have been awarded the prestigious Athena Swan Silver Award. The award was created as a way to recognise institution’s commitment to tackle gender inequality in higher education.

Equality Challenge Unit awarded the Athena Swan Silver Award to just 87 departments in the whole of the UK. The Faculty was one of only 6 departments who were able to retain their silver award from 3 years ago. In order to retain, The Faculty had to show progression in its efforts to address gender equality on both an individual and structural level. The award will last for the duration of 3 years and will promote the Faculty as a champion for gender equality.

On the value of the award, Sarah Dickinson, Head of Equality Charters at Equality Challenge Unit said:

“In an ever changing higher education landscape, we realise that participating in the charter is a significant undertaking, and we would like to take this opportunity to thank and congratulate all those who participated for their demonstrable commitment to tackling gender inequality.”

Amanda Bamford, Chair of the Athena Swan Self-Assessment Team and Associate Dean for Social Responsibility, said:

“I am really thrilled with this award which recognises the efforts made across the Faculty to ensure a supportive working environment for all our staff. The award reflects an enormous amount of work and commitment to provide the most progressive and supportive environment possible for career development and work-life balance in the Faculty. We strive to develop a culture of fairness, opportunity, flexibility, and respect. We want to be a beacon in gender equality so there is no pausing in our efforts especially as are now working towards our Athena Swan Gold award!”

Hema Radhakrishnan, Deputy Associate Dean for Social Responsibility, Faculty of Life Sciences, who also took an active role in the application, said:

“We are delighted to receive the Athena SWAN Silver award which recognises the tremendous effort from the Faculty of Life Sciences towards advancing gender equality amongst staff and students. Even though we are a long way forward from the Suffragette movement, women are still more likely to be discouraged from pursuing careers in Science, Engineering and Technology. Women who do take interest in these subjects often progress in their careers at a rate that is slower than their male counterparts. Athena SWAN Charter was established in 2005 to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science. This Silver award shows that we as a faculty are working hard to reduce the gender gap and the efforts taken by the faculty are benefiting women and individuals with caring responsibilities.”

The Faculty will be presented with the award at a ceremony in the coming months and will be able to proudly wear the Athena Swan Silver badge.

AS_RGB_Silver-Award

Scientists move closer to curing common eye disorder

Scientists at The University of Manchester have successfully restored the sight of laboratory mice suffering from a common cause of blindness in people.

Image of a retina.

A team led by Rob Lucas and Paul Bishop carried out the pioneering research which may help sufferers of retinitis pigmentosa, a group of inherited eye disorders.

The treatment works by expressing a light sensitive human protein called rod opsin into the undamaged cells of the retina, so that it will turn them into special cells called photoreceptors which enable sight.

It was trialled on mice who had inherited advanced retinal degeneration and so were blind.

The treated mice became able to distinguish not only light from dark but also flickering from steady light as well as spatial patterns and to detect a natural movie – an advance on attempts to combat the disorders using non-human proteins.

Retinitis Pigmentosa is a leading cause of blindness: 1.5 million people worldwide are thought to be currently affected.

Using a human protein, says another team member Dr Jasmina Cehajic-Keptanovic , minimises the risk of side effects.

Professor Lucas said: “We aim to find ways of restoring photosensitivity to the retina in conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa in which loss of rod and cone photoreceptors leads to blindness. The protein rod opsin restores some vision under normal office light conditions, allowing mice to detect images presented using standard computer screens. Other researchers have also had some success using other sorts of light protein, but these generally require much brighter light beyond what we generally experience.”

The team’s paper is to be published in the journal Current Biology on 17 August.

Faculty Historian awarded Wellcome Trust 5 year research grant

Historian of science and medicine Dr Duncan Wilson has been awarded a 5 year fellowship by the Wellcome Trust to fund research into considerations of human health in the history of animal conservation.
duncanDr Wilson, whose previous work examined the history of bioethics, will look at why scientists increasingly drew connections between species loss and human health from the 1940s onwards. He will focus on how this viewpoint led to ethical debates about which species we should prioritise in conservation programmes, which influenced and continues to influence the work of scientists working across universities, parks and zoos.

When asked about the project, Wilson describes:

‘A striking feature in coverage of epidemics like Ebola today are claims that increasing rates of species loss are, to quote the International Union for the Conservation of Nature “the leading driver of disease emergence in humans”. Scientists warn that species loss through hunting, habit loss and climate change causes viruses to “spill over” into humans and eradicates potential medicines.

These warnings link our health to the fate of endangered animals and raise difficult questions about which species we should preserve’.

‘Yet despite its importance for understandings of our relation to the natural world, we do not understand why this view of species loss emerged and became influential. My new project will show how scientists in the 1940s first drew on ecology to argue that extinction threatened human health. I will detail how these claims underpinned the work of conservation organisations, national parks and zoos, and will isolate the professional and ethical concerns that led scientists to prioritise certain approaches and animals.

Wilson summarises:

‘Given the dire warnings about the rate and consequences of species loss today, with up to half of all  plant and animal species predicted to become extinct by 2100, this project is vital for helping us reflect on the changing connections between human and animal health, and on why we value some animals over others’.


Faculty scientist shortlisted for International book prize.

Faculty scientist, Professor Matthew Cobb has been shortlisted for the prestigious Royal Society Winton Prize.

In Life’s Greatest Secret: The Story of the Race to Crack the Genetic Code, Matthew talks about the fascinating history behind the genetic code and how scientists from the 1940s and 50s managed to crack it.

The Royal Society Winton Prize is the world’s leading science literature award and celebrates science books which are designed to be accessible for the general public. The book, released earlier this year, has received rave reviews:

“Authoritative… thrilling… a first-class read’ – the Observer

“A compelling fusion of science, history and biography” – The Sunday Times

“A masterly account… a delight” – the Guardian

On receiving the nomination, Matthew Cobb says:

“I’m delighted and honoured that Life’s Greatest Secret has made it onto the shortlist of this prestigious prize. I hope that it will inform and inspire readers, in particular school and university students.”

The winner will be crowned on the 24th September, with the winner receiving £25,000. The other five shortlisted authors will receive £2,500 each.


Softening up cancer cells to make chemo more effective

Researchers at The University of Manchester carefully studied a network of proteins that kick into action when cancer cells in the lab are treated with a class of chemotherapy drugs called taxanes.

These drugs are commonly used to treat several cancers – including breast, ovarian and prostate cancers. But not all cancers respond to them, and it’s difficult to predict which patients will benefit.

Spindle

The Cancer Research UK-funded scientists teased apart this network in a range of cancers to try and find out why some can survive taxane-based chemotherapy.

The team identified one particular component of this network – a protein called Bcl-xL – which helps the cancer cells survive treatment by blocking the self-destruct process that normally kills cells when treated with chemotherapy drugs.

By combining drugs to block Bcl-xL with taxanes, the researchers showed that the combination of treatments killed far more cancer cells in the lab than taxanes alone.

Study leader Professor Stephen Taylor, Cancer Research UK Senior Research Fellow and Leech Professor of Pharmacology at The University of Manchester, said:

“This important research shows us there’s potential to boost the cancer-fighting power of chemotherapy – and do more with less.

This new combination could ‘soften-up’ cancer cells, making it easier for chemotherapy to deliver the final blow and destroy the tumour. And the good news is that drugs targeting Bcl-xL are already out there and being tested in clinical trials.

Using this combination of drugs could improve treatment for patients receiving taxanes and lower their chemotherapy dose, which would also help to reduce side-effects.”

Dr Emma Smith, senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said:

“Predicting which patients will benefit most from different types of chemotherapy is essential if we’re going to make cancer treatments more effective and kinder.

In cases where patients don’t benefit from taxane-based chemotherapy, doctors could add drugs that target Bcl-xL to overcome cancer’s defences. It’s still early days for this research but, if the results are confirmed in clinical trials, it has the potential to improve treatment for thousands of cancer patients.”

See publication:

Topham, C., et al, ‘MYC is a major determinant of mitotic cell fate’. Cancer Cell, 2015. DOI: 10.1016/j.ccell.2015.06.001

Mould unlocks new route to biofuels

A cross-faculty team of scientists have made an important discovery that could aid the production of biofuels and produce important chemicals much more sustainably.

The team, based at the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, is made up of scientists from the Faculty of Life Sciences and the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences. They have identified the structure of two key enzymes that were isolated from yeast moulds. These enzymes play an important role in the production of hydrocarbons – long chains of organic compounds that make up plastics, lubricants and transport fuels.

homebackground62Using existing biofuel technologies, it would be impossible to replace the current industrial demand for fossil fuels with ‘greener’ hydrocarbons. However, this research, published in Nature, provides a more environmentally-friendly, scalable alternative for the creation of biological hydrocarbons.

Professor David Leys, who led the research, investigated the mechanism that causes the common yeast mould to produce kerosene-like odours, right down to the atomic level. The smell occurs when the yeast mould is grown on food containing the preservative, sorbic acid. The team found that yeast uses a previously unknown form of vitamin b2 to help them make the volatile hydrocarbons that cause the kerosene-like smell. This same process was also discovered to help with the creation of vitamin Q10.

Professor Leys clarifies:

“Now that we understand how yeast and other microbes can produce very modest amounts of fuel-like compounds through this modified vitamin B2-dependent process, we are in a much better position to try to improve the yield and nature of the compounds produced.”

David Leys and his team didn’t stop there and have published side-by-side papers in the same Nature edition. In their second paper, the team looked at how alpha-olefins are produced. Alpha-olefins are a high value, industrially crucial intermediary class of hydrocarbons. They are used in the manufacture of flexible packaging and pipes, synthetic lubricants in oils and can be added to detergents to improve their strength. Better knowledge of these olefins could prove key in allowing us to become fossil fuel independent in the coming years.

Professor Leys concludes:

“This fundamental research builds on the MIB’s expertise in enzyme systems and provides the basis for the development of new applications in biofuel and commodity chemical production. The insights from this research offer the possibility of circumventing current industrial processes which are reliant on scarce natural resources.”


Paper 1

White, M. D. et al. “UbiX is a flavin prenyltransferase required for bacterial ubiquinone biosynthesis” will be published in Nature on Wednesday 17 June 2015. Advance Online Publication (AOP) on http://www.nature.com/nature

Paper doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature14559

This manuscript explains how the vitamin B2 is modified and thereby recruited in bacterial vitamin Q biosynthesis.

Paper 2

Payne, K.A.P. et al. “New cofactor supports alfa-beta-unsaturated acid decarboxylation via 1,3-dipolar cycloaddition” will be published in Nature on Wednesday 17 June 2015.  Advance Online Publication (AOP) on http://www.nature.com/nature

Paper doi: http://www.dx.doi.org/10/.1038/nature14560

This manuscript establishes how the modified B2 is used to support the fuel-like compound production.

Tuesday Feature Episode 16: Andrew Loudon

For episode 16 of our Tuesday Feature, we are joined by Faculty Scientist Professor Andrew Loudon. Professor Loudon is one of the world’s leading experts in body clocks and circadian rhythms. He is the Beyer Professor of Animal Biology here in Manchester. It is for his work on clocks that he was recently awarded a fellowship to the prestigious Academy of Medical Sciences. Who better then to star in this week’s Tuesday Feature!


Explain your research for the layman in ten sentences or less.

I’ve been interested all my life in biological clocks – timing systems in biology. I got into this by studying seasonal breeding animals in their natural environments. Their behaviour is very strongly driven by clock based processes. My initial interest came from studying hormone cycles and the mechanisms that control the activation and suppression of reproduction in wild animals. Then, around about 20 years ago, I came particularly interested in some of the genetic mechanisms that were being unravelled for the circadian clock. So I’ve maintained an interest in annual cycles and seasonal breeding but more recently in circadian mechanisms with a very strong interest in genetics.

Andrew loudonHow could your research benefit the people reading this blog?

Well in the context of circadian biology, there’s an awakening interest in the way in which this field can contribute to medicine at multiple levels. One of the most obvious applications is so called chrono-therapy. This is where you try to deliver drugs or therapeutic treatments to patients at the optimum time of day. That’s a non-trivial business. There are a number of drugs for instance that have to be delivered at a particular time of day. Probably most people know about statins and some people take low-dose aspirin – those sorts of drugs are really not effective at the wrong time of day.

This is the tip of the iceberg and there are a large number of other pharmacologies that would be much better if they were adapted so that they were highly potent, one time of day drug. We would then not have to expose the body to a continuous high dose of this drug throughout 24 hours when we really have to only expose the target tissues for a matter of 2-3 hours.

I think there’s likely to be a very large amount of interest in this area. There’s evidence now that pharmaceutical companies are finally waking up to this and it has been led very much by university based scientists around the world.

How did you first get interest in body clocks?

As I said earlier, it relates to my original studies of the reproductive biology of wild animals. My PhD actually was in territorial and sexual behaviour. That’s what introduced me first to hormones. I was studying wild animals. Rather like Springwatch, I was out there at 4 o’clock in the morning with my binoculars for several years. My animal was a small species of deer (the Roe deer) and I spent several happy years tracking deer in the wild doing endocrinology and taking tissues samples from them. My background is really in behavioural sciences and then I moved very quickly in my 20’s to endocrinology, the study of hormones, and then as I’ve indicated, I moved into areas such as genetics.

Have you got any science heroes? Who inspired you?

Of course I’ve been around a while so I’ve got quite a few. I’ve been fortunate to work with and interact with terrific people. I guess one of the early mentors was a wonderful man called Roger Short who was a reproductive biologist. He had a huge impact in the UK on developing the field of reproductive sciences and endocrinology. He then moved to Australia. He’s still alive and I keep in touch with him, he’s well in to his 90’s now. Then another colleague in the United States who I worked with when I was over there, Michael Menaker, who is kind of the grandfather of all biological clock researchers around the world. All of the key people seem to have interacted with him; he was an absolutely wonderful man – a terrific insight into biology generally. I guess other colleagues like Joe Takahashi, who is really quite a friend, has been extremely helpful to everyone in the field and has taken a major lead in pioneering new genetic approach to how biological clocks and timing processes operate generally.  It’s quite a long list, but there’s three there for a start! Without these people in science, life would be so much duller.

How has working in Manchester helped you?

Manchester has got the major asset that it is very large and yet it is possible to interact at multiple levels in different disciplines without the enclaves and territorial/departmental structures that you find in some of the older Universities.  The thing that attracted me to Manchester and the reason I came here, to be quite blunt, was the animal facilities which are unique. They are very well run and the head of the animal facility has been extremely accommodating to myself and all of the other circadian workers in allowing us to kind of take over the facilities and put lots of equipment in there to allow us to monitor the behaviour of the animals. That really was very important to me because I’m very focused on studying the behaviour of animals and seeing how they operate in real time. I don’t just study cells and tissues so obviously that’s important.

More recently, the growing alliance between the Life Sciences and medicine has been extremely important and is very much the future of all of us. I’ve been working very closely for the last 10 years or more with a good friend and colleague called Professor David Ray in the medical faculty and we have a lot of very exciting science going on together.  Manchester is a great place to be – it offers a great opportunity to undertake science across multiple levels with lots of different colleagues and disciplines.

What do you do outside of work?

I’m a keen woodworker and furniture maker. I turn wood. I also fly fish and I’m a life-long, passionate motor cyclist. I have several motorbikes including one very large one and I haven’t fallen off it recently! All of those hobbies have one common feature which is that they require an enormous amount of concentration. If you let your concentration drop in any of those activities the result is chaos. Especially, if you’re motorcycling particular! It’s kind of relaxing to have to concentrate on something different. Those are the kind of things that I do when I’m not working.


Thank you again Andrew for a thoroughly enjoyable Tuesday Feature. Good luck for your induction to the Academy on July 1st and we hope it all goes well! 

Downsizing a giant

Collaboration between four UK universities has found that the world’s largest dinosaur isn’t quite as big as previously thought.

dinosaur
Credit: Biology Papers.

Faculty scientists from The University of Manchester teamed up with scientists from the University of Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores and Imperial College London to help create a computer reconstruction of a dinosaur called Dreadnoughtus. They used this model to help predict the overall mass of the now extinct animal.

Dreadnoughtus, a herbivore with a long neck and tail, was thought to weigh around 60 tonnes but this new model puts the dinosaur’s weight at a more moderate 38 tonnes.

The original estimate of 60 tonnes came from a calculation that was based on the circumference of one of the dinosaur’s fossilised remains and then comparing that to animals that are alive today and their weights. However, the team used a different approach. They fitted simple shapes to a digital model of the Dreadnoughtus’ skeleton and calculated the volume. This volume was then converted into a body mass, using data collected from similar modern animals.

Dr Charlotte Brassey who headed up the Faculty’s involvement explains the results:

“The model we have used here shows that for Dreadnoughtus to have reached the originally estimated size it would have either needed a much higher body density, or much more soft tissue than you find in living four-legged animals.”

She adds:

“While Dreadnoughtus was clearly a huge animal, we don’t think it would have grown to quite as big as the 60 tons originally claimed.  Estimating the size of an animal from its bones necessarily means you have to theorise, but we think our figure fits much better with what we currently understand about the size and shape of modern land animals.”


The paper, ‘Downsizing a giant: re-evaluating Dreadnoughtus body mass’, has been published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

Brains versus Brawn

Faculty researchers have raised over £1000 for charity by taking part in the Great Manchester Run. Read the short report below by Rebecca Montacute and Catherine Lawrence. 


Neuroscientists from the Faculty have fundraised over £1,000 for charity by taking part in the Great Manchester Run, the largest 10K race in Europe. The Brain Inflammatory Group studies the role of inflammation in several diseases that affect the brain, particularly stroke and Alzheimer’s disease. PhD students and staff from the group ran to raise money for the Natalie Kate Moss Trust. Natalie was a former student at the University who died tragically, aged 27, from a brain haemorrhage. The Trust was set up in her honor to support research into brain haemorrhage and to support students who have suffered a brain injury.

Pictured left to right: Jonjo Miller, Ingo Schiessl, Michelle Edye, Raymond Wong, Rebecca Montacute, Matthew Dewhurst, Michael Daniels, Stuart Allan, Catherine Lawrence (and David Brough, not pictured).
Pictured left to right: Jonjo Miller, Ingo Schiessl, Michelle Edye, Raymond Wong, Rebecca Montacute, Matthew Dewhurst, Michael Daniels, Stuart Allan, Catherine Lawrence (and David Brough, not pictured).