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.”

First Year Biologists Reach Out to the Community

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

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

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

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

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

Article by Biology Programme Director Holly Shiels

PhD Student wins Science Communication Competition

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

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

Ben says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Curator scheme for Life Science students

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Trust work experience launches

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



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


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

Ashley Deane, National Trust Ranger:

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

Charlie Hewitt, 2nd Year Biology Student:

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

Amanda Bamford, Associate Dean for Social Responsibility:

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

Adam Hugill

If you are interested in one of the future events please contact


Henry’s Placement Year Blog

Manchester Life Scientists

Hello everyone!

My name is Henry and I’m a third year Neuroscience student on placement in the USA! I’m lucky enough to be working in the University of Nevada Reno’s Physiology and Cell Biology department, looking at energy utilisation in a giant synapse called ‘the calyx of held’. So far it’s been an absolutely invaluable (and all-round-incredible) experience and the three months have already transformed me from a bumbling undergraduate into a (mostly) competent lab worker!

 “But what actually happens on placement?” is the question that I think crosses most people’s mind when they sign up for industrial experience. Sure, you know you’ll have to do ‘a project’ which you’ll have to write up to earn those sweet, sweet percentage points towards your final grade. But beyond that is kind of a mystery, right? Now, I won’t pretend that I have all the answers, but I can at least give…

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Madagascar Medical Expedition 2015

This year a team of students went on a life changing trip to Madagascar to help educate and treat Schistosomiasis in the area. Here’s an account of their adventures.


What is Schistosomiasis and why did MADEX do this project?

Madagascar Medical Expedition 2015 was a student-led research expedition, which set out to screen school children for schistosomiasis in one of Madagascar’s most remote and isolated areas.  We wanted to treat those with the disease and run health education programmes to teach the children ways of preventing re-infection.

Schistosomiasis is a parasitic disease caused by the Schistosoma fluke which is the second most important parasite-born disease after malaria. It is found in tropical, humid climates. People become infected through contact with water infested with the parasite larvae. There are three main species that infect people: Schistosoma haematobium which causes urinary schistosomiasis, and S. mansoni and S. japonicum which causes intestinal schistosomiasis.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) considers schistosomiasis to be the second most important parasite-born disease, second only to malaria in terms of global socio-economic impact. Approximately 166 million people are infected worldwide across 78 endemic countries and it is thought it causes around 20,000 to 200,000 deaths/year. The disease has a particularly serious impact on children as they become too ill to go to school. This impact on education has a major impact on the economy. For this reason the reduction of schistosomiasis is in line with the Millennium 2020 objectives for global health set out by the WHO. Control of schistosomiasis is based on treatment with Praziquantal (an anti-helminthic drug), improved sanitation and health education.

In Madagascar in 1987, approximately 16 million people were thought to be infected in a total population of 24 million. The WHO advises treatment via Mass Drug Administration every 6 months to any population which has greater than 50% prevalence; however in 2009 approximately just 20% of the population in Madagascar had received treatment.

Planning the expedition, and collaboration

This was the first ever student-led medical research expedition from The University of Manchester (UoM), and took over two years of planning. With the backing of The Ministry of Health Madagascar, we put together a proposal, and negotiated with Manchester Medical School to let us use the project for part of our university course. We organised training in microscopy and schistosomiasis identification with Professor Andrew MacDonald’s team and were supplied with brilliant education resources from Dr Sheena Cruickshank in the Manchester Immunology Group.

Four UoM students went to Madagascar: Stephen Spencer (Founder, Head and Lead Coordinator of the team), Anthony Howe (logistics and finances), Hannah Russell (medical, health and safety officer) and James Penney (research lead, and as a French speaker, in charge of international communications)

We also nurtured a collaborative link between UoM and The University of Antananarivo. We selected two recent medical graduates to join the field team: Daniel and Anjara. As well as being an extra pair of hands, they translated, took over the health education programme, and conducted interviews with local health workers, headteachers and village chiefs to investigate the health burden and health beliefs of the area, and so were absolutely crucial to the success of the expedition.

The research

The research was based in the district of Marolambo, one of Madagascar’s most remote locations, situated in central East. We screened six schools from six villages in this district.  This involved hiking between villages, sometimes up to 24km, through forested areas with nearly a quarter of a tonne of equipment.

We screened a total of 399 children from 6 schools, across 6 villages in the district. We looked for schistosomiasis by three different methods: 1) looking for eggs in stool samples 2) looking for eggs in urine samples and 3) using CCA antigen testing, to test for presence of the CCA antigen (given off by all schistosome species) in urine samples. In this way we tested for both urinary and intestinal schistosomiasis.

We found an overall prevalence of 94%, with our data showing that all of this was intestinal rather than urinary schistosomiasis. We also recorded extremely high egg counts, well over the WHO threshold for ‘intense’ infection, and on discussion of these results with experts, it is likely that if some of these eggs remain in the patient’s intestines then severe problems like liver cancer and splenomegaly could occur. Infection, if left untreated, can cause serious damage and even death, so it is critical to intervene with anti-parasite medicine and education. Further to this we ran health education programs to the school children, teaching them about schistosomiasis, how to avoid re-infection, and raising awareness to the local community.

What lies ahead for MADEX?

Our long-term goal is to control schistosomiasis in the Marolambo region.

We have met with the Ministry of Health of Madagascar in Antananarivo, who are keen for the work to continue. As well as ensuring complete treatment amongst this community, we would like to re-screen these populations to study the re-infection rates here.  In addition to this, with follow-up projects, we also aim to reduce the disease burden by focussing on improving education about the disease.

We hope to make this a long-term project, and to continue the collaboration between The Universities of Manchester and Antananarivio, by sending out students year on year. Planning for an expedition in summer 2016 is underway.

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Thanks to: Professor Anthony Freemont & Manchester Medical School, Dr Ed Wilkins & Infectious Diseases Unit (North Manchester General Hospital), Professor Andrew MacDonald, Dr Sheena Cruickshank & Manchester Immunology Group (University of Manchester), Dr Jane Wilson-Howarth, Anglo-Malagasy Society, Jayne Jones & Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Herizo Andrianandrasana & Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Dr Peter Long (University of Oxford), Dr Shona Wilson (University of Cambridge), Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, Natural History Museum London, World Health Organization, Royal Geographical Society, East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, Mission Aviation Fellowship, Dr Alain Rahetilahy & Madagascar Ministry of Health, Prof Luc Samison & University of Antananarivo, Dr Clara Fabienne & Institut Pasteur (Madagascar), Zochonis Enterprise Award, British Medical and Dental Schools’ Trust.

Ayesha’s second year (International) Blog

Manchester Life Scientists

Hi all!

Let me introduce myself first! My name is Ayesha and this year I’m going to be writing for the international section of the FLS student blog.  I’m currently a second year student studying Biomedical Sciences here. A little backstory, I was born and raised in India (represent!) and moved to the UK only about a year ago for my studies.

As far as my first year goes, if I had to sum it up in a word, it was amazing. It was such a good learning experience for me from never even having flown before in my life, to coming all the way here to a completely different continent altogether all by myself. It may not seem like a big deal to many, but for me it was huge! I’m so glad I chose to live at Hulme Hall for my first year- the people were…

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Hello! And welcome…

Our student bloggers have begun again – it’s a great way to find out what’s going on here in the Faculty.

Manchester Life Scientists

To the UoM Faculty of Life Sciences student blog

Now that the students (new and returning) have had a few weeks to settle into university life, it’s time to start up the blog for 2016! This is a place where you can follow the stories of some of our Life Science students, enabling you to live in the life of a UoM student in each year of study! Please do take the opportunity to read through the experiences shared by our students – as you’ll probably soon find that the vibrant and exciting city of Manchester, with lots of fun activities and opportunity’s for students, is the only place you’ll want to be for the next few years!

So let me introduce myself. My name is Alina, and I am the new Digital Media Intern for the Faculty of Life Sciences. My role involves using social media to show potential…

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Manchester Science Festival Opening Night

Yesterday was the launch night of the Manchester Science Festival – an annual event that showcases the extraordinary science of the city. MSc Science Communication student, Emily Lambert was invited to the event and has written up what happened and what is going to happen in the coming week.

Manchester’s annual Science Festival opened on Thursday, with a diverse programme of events for all ages happening across the city.

81,000 white balls make up ‘Jump In!’, Manchester’s first ever adults-only ball pool at the Museum of Science and Industry. ‘Part lab, part playground’, the ball pool is strictly for ages 18+ and is designed to promote stress relief and creative thinking through play. Jump In! can be used as a workspace that is a bit different from the average desk and businesses can book the area for meetings. It is open until 1 November with an entry fee of £5. MOSI is also organising some evening events in the space, with tickets still available for a Silent Disco on 24 October.

Two new exhibitions are at MOSI for the festival. ‘Evaporation’ is a striking art installation by Tania Kovats, inspired by James Lovelock’s Gaia theory of the Earth as a single interconnected living system. Kovats focuses on the connectivity of water. The exhibition features large metal bowls in the shape of the largest oceans that all contain a saline solution that is slowly evaporating, leaving salt crystal traces. There is also an impressive collection of water samples from over 200 of Earth’s seas. A campaign to find the remaining 31 samples needed to complete this ‘All the Seas’ piece will be launched after the festival.

‘Cravings: Does your food control you’ is a culmination of research from North West Scientists investigating the relationship between sensory perception and food. The exhibition is a fusion of art, science and interactive activities, including a surprising smell test. MOSI will play host to Cravings: Late on 28 October, a free event where guests will be invited to explore their own tastes with an array of talks, games and activities.

For the full programme of over 150 Manchester Science Festival Events, please visit . Many events are free.

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Science Communication: The Manchester Science Festival Launch Night

Each year the city of Manchester turns into a hub of science, with researchers coming from all over the world to celebrate the Manchester Science Festival (MSF). This year is no different and this year some of the coverage of the event has been reported by students of the MSc Science Communication course. Below is a report done by Amy Hodgson about the start of the MSF and the launch night.

This year’s Manchester Science Festival launch had extra impact thanks to the first cohort of students on the University’s new MSc in Science Communication. The students live tweeted throughout the launch party on Thursday evening at the Museum of Science and Industry. Also promoting the European City of Science (ECOS) 2016, the party was a thoroughly entertaining and inspiring evening of demonstrations, experiments and ‘sneak peeks’ of what is to come during this exciting year of science in Manchester. The Manchester Science Festival runs from 22 October to 1 November with events across the city for all ages.

Marieke Navin, the Director of the Science Festival and Sally MacDonald, the Director of the Museum of Science and Industry introduced the launch event. Juergen Maier, from chief sponsor Siemens addressed the importance of innovation and technology in the UK. Judith Smith, from lead education sponsor the University of Salford asked whether science could have the same ‘pulling power’ as the Great British Bake Off. Danielle George, Professor Engineering at Manchester University showcased the beginnings of a new ‘robot orchestra’, using old floppy disks to play the Rocky theme tune. She asked for donations of any old technology items that can be added to the orchestra.

The headline exhibition at the festival is ‘The Cravings Experiment’ and at the launch party the award-winning chef Mary-Ellen McTague created two tasty experiments for the guests. The first involved two invented names ‘bouba’ and ‘kiki’ to investigate how we relate certain flavours to sounds. Various canapés were served and guests were asked which word best described each canapé. The second experiment aimed to find out if having food displayed in different ways changed the tasting experience.

Next on stage was ‘Gastronaut’ Stefan Gates who conducted various noisy and smelly demonstrations and experiments. These included firing marshmallows into the audience using a leaf blower, freezing cheese with a fire extinguisher and using a ‘flavour dispersal device’ to see if the audience could recognise a certain smell. There was also a taste bud experiment in which MSc student Emily Lambert’s tongue turned bright blue, revealing her to be a ‘super taster’.

The European City of Science ‘photo booth’ proved to be a popular attraction. Guests were asked to make a promise to join, create, share or tell for the year, with the pictures published on Instagram to ensure all promises are kept. The evening ended with a DJ set from Everything Everything. ECOS director Annie Keane said that the student social media team had done a ‘great job’ in helping to get the programme off to ‘such a fabulous start’ on Twitter and Instagram.

The Manchester Science Festival runs from 22 October to 1st November with events across the city for all ages. Manchester is the European City of Science 2016 and the EuroScience Open Forum runs from 23 to 27 July 2016.

     msf launch

Report by Amy Hodgson. The social media team was Amy Hodgson, Jair Sian, Emily Lambert, Bernadette Tynan, Alec Wilby and Dave Saunders.

Student Placement: The door creaks back open – week 3

The latest blog post from our placement student George Campbell studying frogs in Colombia!

frogtastic blog

We complain about temperamental weather in England but even we don’t have it quite as extreme as it is here, it seems. Last night there was thunder, yesterday it was boiling hot and the night before it was torrential rain. Right now it’s cold but 5 minutes ago it was T-shirt & shorts weather…I keep getting reminded that Pamplona only has two seasons: wet and dry. So far they only have one though: random, and I guess this is where being a Brit comes in helpful as you naturally have to leave the house prepared for any and every possibility.

The town of Pamplona from the Universities viewpoint during the day:


And later that night:


Neither photos really do justice to either the weather at its best or worst, which had my landlady praying to god that the roof holds out. It did.

Anyway, that’s the British conversation starter of…

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Student awarded SCI Scholarship

We are delighted to announce that The Faculty of Life Science’s very own James Adams, has been awarded a SCI scholarship of £5,000 to support his studies into the development of selective Phosphatase inhibitors.

SCI Scholarships are more than just financial, he will also benefit from publishing opportunities, access to a high-calibre network to help launch his career, and opportunities to present his work and raise his profile within the scientific community.

James Adam said:

“I am working on a challenging but inspirational research project that is truly multidisciplinary. This research involves the development of effective bioactive tools to dissect fundamental signalling pathways in particular those involving Phosphatases.

The funding and support offered by my SCI Scholarship will provide a valuable resource to help me pursue my studies.”

Bioremediation: nature’s helping hand against metal pollution

Each year some of our students undertake summer projects and this year was no different. Here’s an account of Msci Plant Science student Helen Feord working as part of Dr Jon Pittman’s lab to research more into metal pollution. This project was supported by a Faculty of Life Sciences Sustainability studentship.

Metal pollution creates hostile environments, but many different organisms persevere and survive in these extreme conditions. Our understanding of such polluted ecosystem comes from characterising their biodiversity and the presence of extremophile (living in extreme environment) organisms. As part of a summer project, funded by the sustainability studentship, plant science student Helen Feord investigated biodiversity from the abandoned copper mine, Parys Mountain, in north Wales. Working in Jon Pittman’s lab, Helen identified organisms from ponds from the abandoned mine by using ribosomal marker sequence identification and then comparing the unknown DNA sequence with known database sequences. Amoebas, fungi, an acidophilic bryophyte and golden alga were some of the organisms found.

To examine these organisms further, Helen focused in particular on the Chlamydomonas acidophila alga. This alga lives in incredibly acidic conditions (in a pH as low as 2) and has a high tolerance to metals such as zinc.  There was an interest in knowing if the amount of zinc present in the water that they lived in had an influence on their tolerance for the metal. Indeed Helen looked at zinc tolerance by comparing the growth of C. acidophila isolated from different ponds and found a difference in zinc tolerance between C. acidophila from the various ponds. However there was no apparent link between the zinc tolerance of C. acidophila and the zinc concentration in the pond they came from, meaning that, in this context, high zinc concentrations did not induce high zinc tolerance.

Furthermore by testing C. acidophila survival and growth at different zinc concentrations, Helen found tolerance surpassing 50 mM zinc. Helen also compared the metal tolerance of genetically modified Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, a model species suitable for genetic analysis. Transgenic strains had they had been genetically modified to express plant proteins that bind metals, and thus have the potential to tolerate metal better. Interestingly, compared to these genetically modified algae, C. acidophila zinc tolerance was much higher.  However for Cadmium, both species had a similar tolerance.

This emphasised the high metal tolerance of C. acidophila and this knowledge is particularly useful as this organism has the potential to be a solution for metal pollution, a concept called bioremediation, the use of living organisms to solve environmental issues like this one. Indeed C. acidophila appears be so metal tolerant because of its ability to uptake the metal. But this still needs to be investigated further so that we can continue to look for ways to use this organism in bioremediation.

Faculty Student awarded a £200 Studentship

Hannah SmithA faculty student has recently been awarded a £200 scholarship for outstanding work in Microbiology. Hannah Smith, who is entering her third year of microbiology, will also receive a year’s membership to the Society for General Microbiology (SGM).

The prize was awarded by the SGM as a way of recognising academic excellence at universities. Dr Jennifer Cavet, who put forward Hannah for the award said:

“Hannah was put forward for this prize due to her outstanding performance in Microbiology. She was the highest scoring student on the BSc Microbiology degree programme in the second year exams in the 2014-2015 academic year”

Shark eggs in a future climate

Our students often have exciting summers and this summer was no different. Here, undergraduate Molly Czachur, talks about her summer of sharks and symposiums.

I am an undergraduate student, and this summer I have had the privilege of receiving funding for a Sustainability Studentship at The University of Manchester. I worked together with Syafiq Musa, a first year PhD student for 3 months.

My project was to assist him in setting up a study of the effects of climate change on the early development of 2 endemic British elasmobranchs: the small spotted catshark (Scyliorhinus canicula) and the thornback ray (Raja clavata). These responses may provide vital evidence for the sustainability of these native UK elasmobranch species under predicted climate change, and these species were chosen as a model to represent all elasmobranch species whose life history strategy includes an egg case phase.

Molly Czachur (left) with her supervisors Dr. Holly Shiels (middle) and PhD student Syafiq Musa (right).

 The wider project aims to establish the effects of predicted climate change for the year 2100 on the development of the shark egg cases. For me, this involved helping to set up a system of 8 mini biospheres, each with its own mini climate that reflects different aspects of climate change. These aspects included changes in temperature (ocean warming), carbon dioxide (hypercapnia) and oxygen (hypoxia).

The setup of the 8 biospheres for our project.

 To help us build our system of mini biospheres, we attended conferences and read scientific literature to build up our knowledge of sharks and climate change. The first conference we attended was on the theme of ocean acidification with the Royal Society in London. We met some of the world leading researchers in the field of climate change, and talked to them about our project.  I had the opportunity to learn from the experts about the direct effects of human habits that are not sustainable for the oceans and our environment, and I watched leading scientists present their research that tested the effects of ocean acidification on marine life.

Syafiq and Molly at the Royal Society Ocean Acidification Conference in London.

 We also attended the annual symposium held by the Fisheries Society of the British Isles, and this years’ theme was elasmobranch biology, ecology and conservation. The 5-day conference was held in Plymouth, and included presentations about sharks and rays, which expanded my knowledge of elasmobranchs beyond my university education, allowing me to apply the biology and ecology that I learnt to inform my own understanding on how to sustainably manage our study species. We also spoke to researchers from all over the world about experimental approaches and their experiences of working with our study species. I met lots of like minded people, became informed on how to share science to a wider audience, and I was even inspired to set up a Twitter page (@zoologymolly)!

Molly and Syafiq at the Elasmobranch conference in Plymouth.

 In addition to our conferences away from our University, I was able to attend multiple tutorials, lab meetings and even an Ecology conference in Manchester with Syafiq, where I heard members of our laboratory speak about their projects and their progress with PhD and other projects, as well as Syafiq and I talking about our own progress over the summer. I had a chance to learn about the scope of the projects and facilities available at The University of Manchester, as well as meeting with people working in academia -a priceless experience for an undergraduate student like myself.

 After learning the theory behind the two elasmobranch species, Syafiq and I set off into the field looking for egg cases in a natural environment -usually attached to seaweed by their long and stringy tendrils. Also known as mermaid’s purses, the egg cases are often found washed up on beaches at the high tide line, hidden in the seaweed that has also washed up. All of the egg cases that we found were empty, so the shark had already left the egg case, but they were still useful because we could study the egg cases in detail. Later stages of Syafiq’s project will involve scratching the dark pigmented layer off the egg case to leave a window, where he will be able to look into the egg cases and see the shark embryo developing inside in real time. We could therefore use the empty egg cases to practice scratching off the pigment. As well as being useful for us, we were able to submit our egg case findings to a nationwide survey called The Great Eggcase Hunt by The Shark Trust, contributing to a large record of egg cases distribution across the UK.

Whilst in the field, we used specialist equipment to measure the seawater conditions, to give us more information about todays water conditions.

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Molly beachcombing and snorkelling for shark eggs.

Based on all that we learnt in theory and in the field, we then set up the biosphere system, with the 8 tanks that imitate different aspects of the predicted future climate for the year 2100. We created 8 environments: four of the tanks were at an ambient temperature of 15°C, and 4 tanks were at an elevated temperate of 20°C. Each of the four tanks had different treatments for 1) a control biosphere which was the same as todays conditions, 2) a low oxygen environment (hypoxic), 3) a high carbon dioxide  environment (hypercapnic) and 4) a combined hypoxic/hypercapnic treatment.

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Schematic of the biosphere set-up.

Together we wrote a proposal for a supply of shark egg cases from an aquarium, which allowed me to practice writing in the style of a project proposal -a useful skill for writing grant proposals in the future, and very relevant to the academic career that I hope to pursue.

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Molly during a shark tagging trip off the coast of North Wales.

Through my many contacts that I gained during this studentship, I ended up volunteering at Manchester Museum where I filmed and edited a short film ( and helped recurate a collection of crustaceans. I also had the chance to go shark tagging off the coast of North Wales, where I had first hand experience of some of our very own British shark species. By working at Manchester University with the Undergraduate Sustainability Studentship, many doors opened for me. This scheme not only reinforced the importance of acting sustainably to support marine wildlife, it also gave me a priceless opportunity to work alongside academic staff and postgraduate researchers, something that would not have been possible without the funding from this scheme, and I hope that this initiative continues to spread the important message of sustainability to undergraduate students.

Soil in Smith Quad stores 12.1 tons of carbon

Damla Kiral, a now third year MSci Zoology student, was awarded a Faculty Sustainability Studentship in Franciska de Vries’ lab to estimate the total amount of carbon stored in the Smith Quad. Soil is the third largest global carbon pool, and it stores more carbon than vegetation and atmosphere combined. The amount of carbon stored in soils can be increased to mitigate CO2 emissions, which cause global climate change.

Damla took soil samples from all vegetation types in the Quad and analysed them for total carbon content. She also measured the bulk density, soil depth, and area of all vegetation types, and calculated the total amount of carbon stored in the Smith Quad.

She found that the Smith Quad stores 12.1 tons of carbon in total. The majority of this carbon (75%) is stored in the grass areas, because grass covers the largest area of the quad. However, the raised beds had the highest carbon concentration (17%, compared to 7% under grass).

The total amount of carbon stored in the quad is equal to the amount of carbon emitted from 60 economy class direct return flights from Manchester to Paris.

This project illustrates the importance of urban soils in carbon storage, and the role the University can play in this. But, it also highlights an easier way for academics to mitigate carbon emissions, by simply cutting down their air travel.

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When fashion meets science.

Two scientists have launched a fashion blog which aims to break the stereotypical image of the dowdy middle aged scientist.

The Tumblr site, called Sartorial Science, asks scientists to send in fashionable pictures of themselves.

Visitors to the site can also learn about each contributor’s research and gain some style inspiration as well.

The site is the work of Sam Illingwortha 31-year-old science communication lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University and Sophie Powell, a 24-year-old PhD student from the Faculty of Life Sciences.

Though the site has only been live for a few days, there has already been a lively response from all across the world, with entries ranging from clinical psychologists in Costa Rica to zoologists in Belgium.

Biochemistry student Sophie, who studies arthritis, also publishes a blog called The Scientific Beauty, where she explains the science behind the latest beauty products and writes about being a female researcher.

She said:

Sartorial Science is all about challenging the stereotype of what a scientist looks like in the eyes of the public and actually, other colleagues. It’s really because as a young woman, there’s a fear I won’t be taken seriously if I care about the way I look, which is kind of frustrating. As a 14-year-old school girl, I was good at science but I remember feeling unsure if it was for me, as it seemed that it was for dowdy, middle-aged ‘boffins’ .

She is hopeful that this will change:

But hopefully this blog will challenge that. And I hope it will encourage young people into science when they realise that actually, we are real people with real interests. It’s not at all about being beautiful: anyone can send us their photos and it doesn’t matter if you think you’re good looking or not. It’s just about taking science out if its pigeonhole and showing that scientists can be fashionable too.

Tuesday Feature Episode 18: Ciara Stafford

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

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

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

How can your research benefit the person reading this blog?

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

How did you first get interested in primates and conservation?

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

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

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

How has working in Manchester helped you?

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

What do you outside of work?

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

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

Tuesday Feature Episode 15: Raj Sidhu

Episode 15 features our very first undergraduate student. Raj is about to graduate from the Faculty of Life Sciences after a 4 year course, but just before she goes, we thought it’d be good to have a quick chat to find out what studying here has meant to her.

RAJ TFWhat is your role in the Faculty?

I’m a student in the faculty of life sciences and I study biology with science and society. I also did a placement year in a pharmaceutical marketing agency. That really helped me to broaden my skills and reinforced everything I did in University.

What kind of research interests you?

The kind of research that interests me is looking at how science impacts on society and how it is portrayed. For instance, my final year project looks at the corporate responses to climate change and how companies are responding to the increasing scientific consensus that climate change is happening.

What are your plans for after graduation?

So after gradation I’m doing an internship in China. I received a scholarship from the British Council to work in an international health clinic over there. The scholarship I’m on is Generation UK. I will be working by myself which will be a challenge but something I’m really looking forward to. I don’t speak any Chinese but I’m hoping that this internship will help me learn a new culture and give me a better appreciate of global issues. It will also help by allowing me to continue my interest in science communication.

Do you have any science heroes? Who inspired you?

I got into science because my mother suffered from MS. That interested me as a young girl. It interested me into looking at how the body works and how the world works. From them on, I’ve just had a real interest in Science.

How has studying in Manchester helped you?

Studying in Manchester has helped because there are just so many opportunities here. Everyone in the faculty has really helped me. I really love the city as well. In terms of studying, the faculty has really helped me reach where I am today. It offers such flexible courses. So I actually started out in first year studying biomedical sciences before I switched to a course that interested me more (Biology with Science and Society) and this has benefited me massively.

What do you like to do outside of studying?

Outside of work I like to eat out in restaurants. Manchester is great for places to eat – especially if you’re a foodie like me! I also enjoy reading books and all about science in action.

Thanks again for doing this Raj! We wish you the best of luck for your upcoming exam results and hope you can make a real difference in China this summer! 

Faculty student to give presentation at UK PlantSci 2015.

Faculty student Emily Schofield has recently been chosen to give a presentation at the UK PlantSci 2015 confereem photonce.

An annual event hosted by the UK Plant Sciences Federation, UK PlantSci brings together eminent plant scientists from all over the UK to discuss research and outreach. The conference, that takes place over two days on the 14-15th April, will feature a range of interesting talks from leading professionals in their field.

Emily, who is a 3rd year Plant Science undergraduate, has been chosen to give a talk on orchids. The talk entitled ‘Fungal symbionts and their role in germination and seedling development in British orchids’ is part of a series of talks about ‘Roots and soil – Finding riches in the dirt’. It is based on Emily’s work with Kew Gardens. She is there as part of her third year industrial placement, where students are able to get real-world experience in their degree area.

Emily says:

‘The application was to write an abstract for a current area of research. I chose to focus on British orchids as the data we were getting looked really interesting. It’s really exciting to be chosen to present at a national conference, I can’t wait to meet other scientists passionate about plants.’

For more information about the conference, please go to

Alcohol Awareness Week interview with Sylvia Lui

Alcohol Concern use their annual Alcohol Awareness Week to encourage organisations and individuals to highlight the impact thatSylvia Lui the substance has on our health and communities.

As part of this year’s campaign, running from the 17th to the 23rd of November, we sent Kory Stout to interview Faculty PhD student Sylvia Lui. Her project, led by Professor John Aplin and Dr Clare Towers and funded by the British Medical Association, looked at the effect of alcohol on pregnancy during the first-trimester. It was the first time that such a study had focused on this early stage of pregnancy. Sylvia says:

“It appears that alcohol, even at moderate levels, reduces the growth and function of the placenta resulting in less support and nutrient supply for a rapidly growing baby. It was interesting to find, though, that ethanol at very low concentrations (1-2 units, equal to half or one standard drink) did not have any effect on placental growth or function. Unfortunately, people find it difficult to judge what a unit is and often underestimate how much they are drinking, so erring on the side of caution may be the best practice.”

The team hope to conduct a much larger study in the future. Because guidelines on alcohol intake are often contradictory and confusing, they hope to produce some more specific advice to pregnant women about the individual dangers that they and their babies would be subject to through drinking alcohol.

You can read the whole interview over at the Life Sciences Blog.

What were the aims of your research?

Working in partnership with Tommy’s [a UK based charity that supports research into problems in pregnancy] and funded by the British Medical Association, we decided to look at the impact alcohol had on placental growth and function, and hence fetal development. My project, led by Dr Clare Towers and Prof John Aplin, looked at the effect of ethanol and its metabolite acetaldehyde on first-trimester pregnancy. We wanted to see if there was direct scientific evidence that would support the existing medical advice of avoiding alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

Why did you choose first-trimester pregnancy?

Although there are many studies on the effects of high levels of alcohol through the duration of pregnancy, this is the first time a study has shown the effect of alcohol in such an early stage. Previous research has centred on fetal outcomes at the end of pregnancy after massive levels of alcohol intake. Whilst this is obviously very important, we believed that understanding the effects of alcohol at the very early stages, when the fetus is at its most crucial stages of development and all the organs are just being programmed, was crucial in understanding the overall effects of alcohol in pregnancy and on fetal health.

How did you go about investigating the effects of alcohol on the developing fetus?

We are very fortunate to be working here at the Maternal and Fetal Research Centre at St. Mary’s hospital, one of the UK’s largest human placenta research centres. We are in an unparalleled situation in terms of having access to donated placental tissues and all of the work we did here was done in the laboratory and on donated tissue samples. The placenta was used as a means of assessing the potential effects on the development of the fetus because of its crucial role in providing nutrients and oxygen during pregnancy. Poor placental development is very strongly linked with poor fetal development and risk of fetal death. With the documented detrimental effects of alcohol, we were interested in how it would affect very early pregnancy, when the pregnancy is less likely to be known and more alcohol consumed.

To test the effect of alcohol on the placenta, we incubated the placental tissue with low (equal to half to one standard drink), mid (2-3 standard drinks), and high (4-6 standard drinks) levels of ethanol and acetaldehyde (the major metabolite of ethanol). After doing this, we measured the amount of vital amino-acids (including taurine) taken up by the placenta, that would act as markers of nutrient transfer for good fetal development. We then wanted to see if the levels of ethanol and acetaldehyde would affect the growth of the placenta. If they did, we could then draw conclusions from this about the consequent effects on the development of the fetus.

What were the results of your research?

The biggest and most surprising effect we found was that mid to high levels of both ethanol and acetaldehyde had detrimental effects only on taurine transport. Taurine is an important amino acid that is vital for normal brain development. In extreme cases of babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome, infants are often diagnosed with lifelong neurological problems. There are documented negative effects on behaviour and physical development with extended low taurine levels. Our results may indicate how alcohol can affect the baby’s brain development during pregnancy via the reduced placental transport of taurine to the fetus.  Another important finding was that the same middle to high levels of ethanol and acetaldehyde also reduced placental cell growth.

In summary, it appeared that alcohol, even at moderate levels, reduced the growth and function of the placenta and resulted in less support and nutrient supply for a rapidly growing baby. It was interesting to find, though, that ethanol at very low concentrations (1-2 units, equal to half or one standard drink) did not have any effect on placental growth or function. Unfortunately, people find it difficult to judge what a unit is and often underestimate how much they are drinking, so erring on the side of caution may be the best practice.

What’s next?

Ideally, we would be able to do a much larger study. We want to see what alcohol’s effects are on a range of specific attributes. Advice on alcohol intake is confusing and studies have shown that alcohol has varying levels of effects, depending on genetic/race factors, different body types, socio-economic backgrounds, and gender. We want to see how much these factors affect the detrimental effects of alcohol during pregnancy and so the development of the fetus. This would help us to give much more specific advice to pregnant women about the individual dangers that they and their babies would be subject to through drinking alcohol.


You can read the paper,  entitled Detrimental effects of ethanol and its metabolite acetaldehyde, on first trimester human placental cell turnover and function, on PLOS ONE.

Research could improve breeding of endangered sea creature

Undulate ray - undersideFaculty scientists are attempting to map the genes of the endangered undulate ray, a protected British species which has declined sharply in the last few decades. Their data will be used to check the heritage of around 120 undulate rays in European aquariums, helping to pair up breeding adults and produce healthy offspring.

The team is investigating the diversity of the rays’ DNA to infer how inbred individuals are. Inbreeding causes frequent still-births and shortens the lifespans of offspring. Dr John Fitzpatrick, lead researcher on the project, says:

“This approach has never been used to aid captive breeding in rays before. It’s exciting to be working on a project with such a worthwhile practical application and strong scientific value.”

Marine biologist Jean-Denis Hibbitt has been managing the UK population since 2010 and is now monitoring the breeding programme across Europe. There have been 29 successful births in the UK since the programme was launched. Jean-Denis says:

“The first objective of the breeding programme is to provide undulate rays for public display to help raise awareness Ray Markingsof their plight. This added awareness, and the ability for people to identify the species, will subsequently allow them to question whether illegally landed rays are on sale in their local fishmongers. If numbers in the wild fall to a critical level, it is feasible that we could help with a reintroduction programme.”

Faculty student Iulia Darolti has taken DNA swabs from all 45 of the rays in British aquariums. She also accompanied Jean-Denis to swab two wild rays for comparison. Iulia says:

“It has been a challenging assignment. To expose the rays to as little stress as possible we developed non-invasive sampling techniques that allowed us to collect DNA from the skin. Travelling the country working with rays is something I never imagined myself doing, but it has been a very rewarding experience.”

PhD student Graeme Fox has been doing much of the laboratory work. He says:

“We developed a set of genetic markers to help discover whether the rays are related or not. After screening the DNA, we were able to identify regions that were likely to be highly variable. Our hope is that this data will enable Sea Life to plan the optimum management strategy to secure the genetic health of this beautiful and increasingly scarce species.”

Faculty student wins prestigious award

Siddarth Krishnan Faculty student Siddharth Krishnan has won the Life Sciences category of The Undergraduate Awards, a prestigious international programme that identifies leading creative thinkers through their undergraduate coursework. There were 4,792 entries from 206 Universities across 27 countries. Another Faculty student, Eliot Haworth, was highly commended.

Siddharth entered his work from a placement at the Mayo Clinic in Florida, USA, in which he helped to characterise a novel gene linked to Alzheimer’s disease. This was part of his degree in Pharmacology with Industrial Experience. He said:

“I gained a lot of great experience during my placement. The Mayo Clinic has a hospital, education wing, and research centre all on the same site, so I was able to work with researchers and patients for my genetic studies. This gave me a lot of confidence, as it meant I had good research experience already. It also helped me get onto my PhD in Neuroscience and I had a strong submission to the awards. Still, I was surprised and delighted to win!”

Student profile – Alexia Schwarz, Biology

Alexia in AustraliaCombining your studies with your sport can be a difficult task. In the last year, Alexia has not only managed this task successfully; she has also spent a semester in Australia and found inspiration for her future.

Tell us about your sport:

Eventing is an amazing aspect of equestrian. It allows all ages and levels to compete together. It consists of three disciplines: dressage, cross-country, and showjumping.  It’s a well-rounded sport containing precision, endurance, and agility.

What’s it like being an athlete for Indonesia and a student in the UK?

European riders are so numerous that they often fight to compete in competitions. Being the only Indonesian rider in Europe, events are always open to me.

Eventing is a great sport. Even an amateur can get to Olympic level of they work hard. This enables me to study and still compete every year during the summer season.

What are you plans for competing this year? Any big competitions?

I will return to eventing after my semester in Australia. With a bit of luck and hard work, the Asian Games in Incheon this September could be THE BIG competition this year.

Tell us about Australia. Why did you choose to go there?

My visit is part of the University’s exchange program. I’ve always been interested in marine biology; Australia gives me the opportunity to explore that domain, with courses allowing me to visit the Great Barrier Reef, Fraser Island, The Gold Coast, and Sunshine Coast.

What role did Equestrian play in your choice of placement to Australia?

Equestrian made me question going abroad. I knew it would make it hard to return to Europe in the eventing season, especially with the Asian Games approaching. But sometimes new experiences and education opportunities are difficult to pass up. Once in a life time chances don’t happen every day.

A sea turtleWhat has been your highlight of your trip down under so far?

My field course to Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef for my Marine Environments course. Spending 5 days on an idyllic island in a research station was an incredible experience. It has convinced me of my future ambitions for education.

How do you see your trip adding value to your sport and education for this next year?

Coming to Australia has opened my eyes; it allowed me to decide what educational career I wanted to pursue. Marine biology was always an idea, but I was never sure of how I could make it work with riding. Being here and being able to study, ride, and dive has shown me it is possible to maintain a high standard in all three.


Students offer advice on sensible drinking

The student's posterFaculty students are campaigning against excessive alcohol consumption and hope their message goes viral. The team of first year biology students have won an award from the University for a project which tasked students with the challenge of bringing biology into the local community.

Students Bethany Love, Katy Faulkner, Caroline Cahill, Portia Hollyoak, Aimee Parry, Annika Vik,  and Helen Feord launched the awareness campaign earlier this year on social media. They used Facebook and Twitter to promote facts and figures on alcohol consumption using images and videos to engage its audience.

Bethany said her team came up with the idea not to encourage students not to drink alcohol, but to advise them on over-drinking:

“We wanted to use social media to promote our campaign to young adults outside the university since it isn’t just students that overindulge with alcohol. While the majority of students are aware of the short term effects of excessive drinking, many are not aware or would rather not think about the permanent damage that can occur as a result of binge drinking”

“We are raising awareness and letting people know that you can go out and have fun with your friends, but you can also still be safe and not damage your health. Our ambition is that when people are searching online for information about anti-binge drinking, we want them to think of us. We think they will want to engage with the campaign because it is about students talking to other students about the issues surrounding binge drinking.”

Aimee said:

“The success of our project is clear from the popularity of our Facebook and Twitter pages, and the use of social media has enabled us to reach the attention of a wider audience than expected.”

The campaign won an award for the Best Community Project at the University’s recent Biology Project Symposium. Students taking part in the project were given a term to bring biology into the local community. It took on numerous forms, from fundraising for charities to setting up/demonstrating topical information displays in primary schools and shopping malls.



Benjamin Stutchbury wins over audience at FameLab Regional Finals

stutchbury (1)Faculty PhD student Benjamin Stutchbury recently took part in the North West regional finals of FameLab UK 2014, a competition to find new voices in science. Four other University researchers were also involved.

The event, hosted by MOSI, saw the region’s finest communicators battle it out to impress a judging panel of Dr Phil Manning (University of Manchester), Carolyn Bishop (University of Huddersfield), and Victoria Gill (BBC). The prize on offer was a place in the FameLab UK National Final. Each contestant had three minutes to present accurate and interesting science in an accessible way, using everyday language and storytelling.

Benjamin won the audience vote at the Regional Finals with his presentation entitled ‘Designing drugs on the London Underground’. His talk focused on the use of systems biology to improve drug design. Mathematical networks are widely used in systems biology so Benjamin used the London Underground map as an example of a mathematical network that the audience could easily relate to. Benjamin said:

“The ability to communicate complex scientific concepts to a wide audience is an extremely important skill to develop. Concentrating complex science into a (hopefully) entertaining three-minute talk was extremely challenging, but also great fun. I was amazed by how inventive some of the contestants were and the range of scientific topics covered. I would recommend anyone to give it a go next year!”

Dr Jo Pennock, a lecturer from the Faculty, also participated in the Regional Finals. Jo was chosen as a wildcard and will go into a draw for the last spot in the National Final, held at Bloomsbury Theatre on the 23rd April.

Medical Research Council centenary celebrations

Manchester students on placement at the Medical Research Council in the Gambia played an active role in the recent celebrationgambia (1) of the MRC’s Centenary year. The students involved were Beth Coe, Thomas Elliot, Alex Clark, Richard Morter, Jack Bibby, and Megan Chasey. All embraced the experience, and Thomas even designed the centenary t-shirt. They were also introduced to MRC Chairman, Donald Brydon, when he visited the unit for the centenary celebrations.

The students were invited to join the organising committee and run stations for the open day which formed a central part of the celebrations. 150 children from 15 local schools attended. Richard and Thomas served as microphone runners at a high-profile ‘Ask the Experts’ event which featured a distinguished panel of guests. The event was attended by over two hundred people.

Alison Offong, Head of Communications at the MRC Gambia said:

“Richard and Tom ensured seamless operations on the night!”

Tom and Beth were honoured to attend the Directors Award Dinner, held at Professor Corrah’s house. They were seated at the MRC Chairman’s table and had a very enjoyable evening. Beth said:

“It made it us feel part of the MRC as a whole and it was such a privilege to be given the opportunity to get involved. Meeting the local school children and their teachers made us feel that we belong and that the work we are doing is so worthwhile.”

PhD student Sarah Fox gets SET for BRITAIN

setforbritainSarah Fox will have a chance to present a poster of her research to a range of politicians and a panel of expert judges at SET for BRITAIN 2014. SET for BRITAIN is a prestigious national science competition, run by The Parliamentary and Scientific Committee in collaboration with a number of other institutions, which recognises and rewards Britain’s most talented early-career scientists. Sarah will exhibit her research poster entitled “EEG as a tool for early Alzheimer’s diagnostics and drug development”. Sarah’s work highlights the possibility to detect changes in communication between regions of the brain associated with memory formation prior to the appearance of usual Alzheimer’s diagnostic markers, such as memory alternations and build-up of amyloid plagues in the brain. This research could also be used to aid the development of drugs for the treatment of early Alzheimer’s.

Sarah’s poster will be judged alongside other early-stage researchers from across the UK in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences Session of the competition. On taking part in the competition, Sarah said:

“I’m excited to be representing Manchester and bringing our research to the people who can influence policy. I hope I can use this opportunity to explain the necessity for both basic and applied research, especially with regard to neuroscience, where the exploration and understanding of basic brain mechanisms is essential to help focus future applied research.”

We wish Sarah luck in the competition!

Manchester graduate on course for Mars mission

marsDanielle Potter, a Life Sciences graduate who is now studying cancer research as a postgraduate at the University, is hoping to land a place on the first manned-mission to Mars. From 202,000 applicants, Danielle has become one of the final 1058 candidates. The 29-year-old will now be tested to see if she makes the grade and becomes one of the final 24. They then hope to embark on a one-way-trip to the red planet.

Mars One is a privately funded project set up by two Dutch men in 2011 with the aim of establishing permanent human life on Mars by 2025. Danielle, originally from Manchester’s Moss Side, only found out about the mission on application deadline day but signed up straight away. She said:

“What has always driven me with my research is that hunt to find something new. This is what I’m looking at in my research into cancer. When I learnt about this opportunity I thought it would be great to be a part of the most historic thing to ever happen in our galaxy.”

Danielle completed a Molecular Biology degree at the Faculty before being accepted for a PhD at the CRUK Manchester Institute. The former pupil at Trinity School in Manchester City Centre is in the third year of her PhD researching colorectal and lung cancer therapies. Her lab work looks at how different drugs interact and how they may be used to target the disease. She added:

“I never thought going to space would be within my grasp, but it would be great to do research there and look at something no one has ever seen before. My PhD has given me the skills to think outside the box and look at how to go about analysing data found on Mars. If I’m successful in getting into the next round I’ll get to train with some of the best of the best in the space industry and get a lot of experience with training in the Arctic Circle. With my scientific research background, I’d be trained to look for possible extra-terrestrial life on the planet.”

The Mars One team will now continue the shortlisting process. Danielle plans to finish her PhD studies before the training schedule begins.

Extinct robust birds of New Zealand not so robust after all

moabirdA study led by Faculty PhD student Charlotte Brassey has shown that the giant moa bird Dinornis robustus, which literally means ‘robust strange bird,’ may not have had robust bones after all. The leg bones of one of the tallest birds in history were actually more like its modern relatives the ostrich, emu, and rhea. In collaboration with Professor Richard Holdaway at The University of Canterbury, New Zealand, Brassey has shown that it was actually a much smaller species of moa that possessed the robust skeleton.

To determine whether the leg bones were overly thick and strong, the researchers had to define how heavy the birds were. Previously, scientists have done this by measuring the thickness of the leg bone and scaling up according to the size of living birds. This becomes a problem when the leg bones have unusual proportions. Ms Brassey explained:

“If we wanted to estimate the weight of a saber-toothed cat, no-one would suggest measuring canine tooth length and then scaling up the tooth size of your standard tabby. You’d end up with a ludicrously high estimate of the body weight of the saber-toothed cat. The same is true for moa. We knew that moa had disproportionately wide leg bones, yet previous estimates of their body mass had been based on those same bones. This probably resulted in overestimates.”

To avoid this, the researchers scanned whole skeletons. As predicted, the new estimates were considerably lower. Nonetheless, the largest moa still weighed in at 200kg; the equivalent of 30 Christmas turkeys.

The researchers then applied an engineering technique known as Finite Element Analysis (FEA) to estimate how robust the moa really were. FEA crash-tests objects using computer simulations, and is usually used for tasks such as testing the strength of bridges or modelling the behaviour of Formula One cars. The FEA techniques and the new estimates suggest that different groups of moa solved the problems of supporting their huge bodies in different ways. Such fundamental differences suggest that the nine species of moa had long histories of independent evolution.

Raising awareness of animal research

animalresearch (1)Pupils from schools and colleges across Greater Manchester recently attended a special open day at the University, learning how and why animal research is used in certain situations. They heard how researchers were looking for cures for cancer, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, and age-related deterioration and attended a tour which showed how the animals are kept. The event came following the University’s commitment to developing principles of openness in animal research. Faculty researcher Professor Matthew Cobb said:

“The visit allowed students to experience the conditions and high standards of care we give to our animals. They saw mice, some of which are genetically modified by deletion or insertion of genes, or genes that can be switched on and off. They learnt about epilepsy research in flies and compared young flies and their grandparents to learn about ageing and how it can be studied. Believe it or not, we have lots in common with fruit flies. Many of our organs and structures have the same origins and serve the same purposes. Applying this knowledge from Drosophila flies to humans and human disease is a powerful and effective strategy.”

Mark McElwee, Deputy Head at Parrswood High School, said:

“The event was really worthwhile. The pupils gained an insight into the realities of animal research. It definitely opened their eyes to the potential of animal research for medical benefits and in fact it changed some of their opinions. They were also amazed at the care and dedication put into ensuring the wellbeing of the animals. The feedback from the pupils is that some were so inspired they are seriously considering changing their UCAS applications to go into biological sciences.”

Karolina Zaezyczny, aged 17, from Holy Cross College, said:

“The open day did change my view. It’s made me aware of the positive things and why scientists sometimes have to use animals in their research. I was very impressed with the facilities the animals were kept in.”

Manchester iGEM team are world champions!

worldchampionsCongratulations to the Manchester iGEM (international Genetically Engineered Machine) team for their success at the iGEM World Championships held in Boston, USA on 2-4 November. The 10 Manchester students, mainly from our Faculty and based at The Manchester Institute for Biotechnology (MIB), won the ‘Best Human Practices’ prize for their work on developing a biosynthetic version of palm oil which could help preserve the rainforest and thereby save elements of biodiversity, including the orangutan.

The Manchester team competed with 73 other synthetic biology teams from around the world. Their project drew praise for a vision in which synthetic biology and traditional farming complemented each other. Members of the team will be describing their work, and the excitement of the iGEM Championships, in the next episode of the Life Sciences podcast. For more details about the project, visit Team Manchester’s website. Team member Robert Harrison said:

“I am absolutely thrilled that we have just won the award for World’s Best Human Practices! We would once again like to express our deepest gratitude for all the support shown by the university, in particular to FLS and MIB, without which this amazing achievement would not have been possible.”

Success in the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition!

Faculty undergraduates were part of a team that won a gold medal in the European heat of the International igemGenetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition. The students will now go on to the World Finals, to be held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston at the beginning of November.

The worldwide iGEM competition is open to students who are interested in synthetic biology. Competing teams are given a kit of biological parts at the beginning of the summer. They then use this kit, and additional parts of their own design, to build biological systems and operate them in living cells.

The Manchester team, mentored by Professor Eriko Takano, created a synthetic alternative to palm oil using E. coli. Due to its use in many consumer products, demand for palm oil is huge. This is causing the price to rocket, at the same time as creating irreparable damage to rainforests and species such as the Sumatran Orangutan. The team said:

“We went beyond what’s expected in terms of human practices. We researched a report that explored the effect of our project on national and global scales. We studied the viability of replacing palm oil with a synthetic alternative, putting special focus on the effects of competing with traditional farmers. Our report details a vision in which synthetic biology and traditional farming complement each other.”

Because of this aspect of their work, the team won the award for Best Human Practices. They were also involved in outreach activities, with stands at the FLS Community Open Day and at the University’s Science Stars day. Team member Rob Harrison said:

“We would like to thank the Faculty for their generous support. Each team member found the experience highly beneficial; be it for lab experience, computer modelling, or the development of transferable skills.”

We’ll be posting an update on how the team get on at the World Finals. You can find out more about their project on their Wiki page, and more about the competition in general on the iGEM website.

Commendation for Faculty PhD student

Oliver Freeman, a final-year PhD student from the Faculty, has received a commendation for his entry in this oliverfreemanyear’s Max Perutz Science Writing Award. Following the shortlisting of his article, Why sugary nerves aren’t so sweet, Oliver attended a writing masterclass and an award ceremony in London, where he picked up his commendation prize of £750.

The Max Perutz Award is named in honour of one of the UK’s most outstanding scientists and communicators, Dr Max Perutz, who died in 2002. The awards are in their sixteenth year and aim to bring the work of Medical Research Council researchers to the attention of a wider audience. All entrants are asked to explain why their research matters in a maximum of 800 words. This year’s judges included MRC Chairman Donald Brydon, Channel 4 newscaster Jon Snow, New Scientist editor Lizzie Gibney, and Dr Andrew Bastawrous, the winner of last year’s award. Our congratulations go to Oliver and all of the successful entrants. Oliver said:

“Being shortlisted for the award was a fantastic experience and to be commended in the award ceremony was a great bonus. The support the MRC gives to young scientists is incredible and I’d urge anyone considering entering a competition such as this to give it a go.”

Faculty celebrates accreditation of life sciences degrees

accreditationOn September 4th, 2013, Faculty members celebrated the accreditation of all our four-year biological science degree programmes during a glitzy ceremony at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Accreditation, granted by The Society of Biology, is awarded to programmes that demonstrate the highest standards in the biosciences and provide graduates with the skills for academic and industry careers. The award was accepted by Associate Dean for Teaching, Learning, and Students, Professor Catherine McCrohan:

“Recognition of our four-year degree programmes is the result of the combined efforts and the dedication of a huge number of individuals, both staff and students. In particular, I would like to thank academic and support staff, especially programme directors and those involved with sourcing and administering our many and varied placements. The Society particularly commented on the quality and enthusiasm of our students, and their confidence to tackle challenging placements in far-flung locations. Thank you to everyone”

The 34 accredited programmes range from anatomical sciences to zoology. Each was recognised for their high quality, the choices they offer, and the way they prepare our students for the future careers. Every programme includes a year’s placement in which students take part in a significant research project.

Double success for the Faculty!

The Society of Biology Science Communication Awards reward scientists and researchers for outreach work rebeccawilliamswhich educates and engages the public. There are two categories in these annual awards, and this year both winners were from our faculty.

Applicants’ projects can vary widely, from articles and talks, to demonstrations and art displays. Judges look for engaging activities which bring top-quality science to non-academic audiences, encouraging a long-lasting interest in biology.

This year’s New Researcher Award went to developmental biology PHD Student Rebecca Williams. Rebecca established Fastbleep Biology, an organisation that runs workshops in Greater Manchester, while obtaining her PHD. She also worked as a Widening Participation fellow at the University and a demonstrator at Manchester Museum. Ben Johnson, chair of the judging panel, said:

“What struck us about Rebecca’s application was the variety of activities she was involved in and her ability to improve projects based on participant feedback. Rebecca had some great projects and was really committed to ensuring they continued after she finished her PhD.”

Dr Sheena Cruickshank was successful in the other category, receiving the Established Researcher Award for sheenaawardher role as a developer of The Worm Wagon. Combining art and interactive activities, The Worm Wagon brings awareness to global health issues caused by parasitic worms. Working with a variety of audiences, ranging from school children, to immigrant groups, to festival goers at Live from Jodrell Bank, The Worm Wagon informs the public of how these infections can be both transmitted and treated. Dr Steve Cross, another judge on the panel, said:

“Sheena’s application stood out because she’s getting to audiences beyond the places science normally goes, focusing her time and effort to make successful projects that involve her colleagues. We loved the creativity of her communication and the very clear passion for her field of immunology.”

The winners will receive their awards at the Society’s Annual Award Ceremony at the King’s Fund on Thursday 17th October during Biology Week 2013.

Pupils discover new treatment to stop the spread of worm infection

Scientists from the University have been working with inner-city school children, carrying out research into a hulmepupils (1)condition which affects roughly one billion people worldwide. The 29 youngsters, from Trinity Church of England High School in Hulme, conducted an eight-week experiment investigating the development of eggs from worms which infect the gut.

The pupils learnt how worm eggs infect children around the world, causing malnutrition and sickness, and how these infections are responsible for children missing out on education. They treated worm eggs with different substances to try and stop them from developing into worms, with the hope of finding new ways to prevent the spread of disease.

They made an exciting discovery when realising that clove oil reduced egg development by 50%. As clove oil grows in many places where worm infections exist, they may have found an effective natural therapy to reduce the spread of worm infection.

Pupils showcased these results as part of a presentation day for parents, staff, and students at the University. Faculty researcher Professor Richard Grencis presented certificates to all the participants and even had prizes for a few. Ann Flatman, Deputy Headteacher at the school, said:

“The Trinity Community is extremely proud of our pupils and the work they carried out during this Royal Society Research Project. It’s a joy to see pupils engaged and learning practical scientific skills. It‘s extremely important to us that our pupils gain a real understanding of the hardships faced by others within our global community. The fact that they have stumbled across a potential solution to a condition that affects millions of other children worldwide is an added bonus, to say the least.”

Dr Jo Pennock, from the Institute of Inflammation and Repair, said:

“Most of the children and parents had never been to the University and didn’t know much about what scientists did. We hope that by working more closely with local children, we’ll encourage them to take up science as a subject choice and a career.”

Faculty hosts British Biology Olympiad Lecture

cobblecture (1)The British Biology Olympiad (BBO) is a nationwide competition organised by the Society of Biology in which competing students must sit two exams and complete a practical assessment. Four students are then selected to represent the UK in the International Biology Olympiad (IBO) in Switzerland. Alongside the competition, a series of regional events take place around the country. As part of this series, the Faculty hosted the 3rd North West BBO Lecture at the beginning of July.

Attendees included sixth form students from Holy Cross College, Whalley Range 11-18 High School, and Withington High School for Girls. Professor Matthew Cobb, Associate Dean for Social Responsibility, was the invited speaker. He gave a fascinating and thought-provoking lecture on the topic of “Why evolution is true.”

Event organiser Dr Michelle Keown then gave an overview of the Faculty’s sponsorship of the BBO, before discussing details of another Society of Biology competition, known as The Biology Challenges. As the event drew to a close, Faculty lecturers Dr Elizabeth Sheader, Dr Tristan Pocock, and Dr Susan Cochran spoke to the students about degree options in the Faculty and the wide variety of career options that studying biology can lead to. This successful event promoted these challenging and exciting competitions to local schools, while also encouraging and developing the students’ interest in biology.

Sale Sharks star wings his way to graduation

A Sale Sharks star graduated from the University this week after charlieamesbury (1)completing his final-year studies at the same time as playing and training with the Premiership rugby union team. Charlie Amesbury transferred to Manchester after signing a professional contract with the club and followed the advice of his tutors and trainers when deciding to spread his final-year studies over two years. This decision allowed him to cope with both his education and a gruelling training schedule. The winger’s dedication paid off when he was awarded a 2:1 (Upper Second) classification in his BSc Biology degree:

“I’m very pleased with my result – the grade reflects the support offered by the University and their sensitivity to individual needs while delivering first-class teaching. Combining a professional sports career with a time-intensive degree would’ve been impossible without this support. Modern lecture theatres and teaching techniques such as podcasting allowed me to keep up with fellow students even when lectures clashed with training.”

Charlie’s final-year research project involved studying the body clocks of professional rugby players and comparing them with non-rugby playing men of the same age. He aimed to discover if the biological clocks of the professionals were well synchronised and able to be more active earlier in the day than the non-rugby players. His supervisor, biological clock expert and Sale Sharks fan Professor Andrew Loudon, spoke about working with Charlie:

“Charlie’s incredibly organised. To hold down a competitive place playing on the wing in a Premiership rugby club and perform academically as he did takes some doing. The team at Sale Sharks were very supportive and we thank them for their cooperation.”

Charlie benefited from the University’s Sports Scholarship Scheme, which provides a range of support for students such as funding for free gym access, physiotherapy sessions, lifestyle support, and strength and conditioning coaching.

Professor Matthew Cobb, Associate Dean for Social Responsibility, said:

“We recognise that university life is not only about academic achievement, and that some students have to cope with major challenges in life and work. Charlie is a great example of a student who has met all his challenges and achieved excellence in all fields.”

Loreto College students visit the Faculty

loretocollege (1)In the middle of June, 90 Year 12 students from Loreto College in Hulme took part in exciting and informative practical sessions at the University. The exercises, led by Dr Kathy Hentges, included the dissection of chicken eggs so that the students could study the developing embryo. They then designed experiments that demonstrated how temperature and salt solutions affect embryonic heart rate.

Researchers and lecturers from the Faculty of Life Sciences and the Faculty of Medicine and Human Sciences talked to the students and described the variety of research topics being studied in the University. The students seem to have enjoyed the meetings and practical sessions:

“The session was brilliant – I enjoyed talking to the academics.”

“Overall, the programme was excellent.”

“I really enjoyed it and found it interesting to be involved in the practicals.”

This visit was part of a larger project with Loreto College. Earlier in the year, Dr Hentges, Rebecca Williams, and Joe Timothy visited the college to teach 40 students about gene expression. Through practical experiments the students increased their knowledge of gene expression, PCR reactions, and gene structure. They were also encouraged to use these experiences in their ‘personal statement’ as part of their application to university.

These sessions with Loreto College are part of the University’s Widening Participation (WP) scheme, which aims to increase the recruitment of students from backgrounds that are traditionally underrepresented in Higher Education. The University’s recognition of the central importance of this aspect of our work is reflected by the fact that WP forms one of our core strategic goals. Dr Kath Hinchliffe commented on Loreto College and the WP scheme:

“The activities with Loreto College students are a superb example of how the Faculty is interacting with the local community to fulfil WP obligations. By actively engaging with potential future undergraduates, we raise awareness of the biological sciences, reveal the wealth of exciting career opportunities they provide, and deliver the key message that these opportunities are open to any individual with the potential to succeed, irrespective of his or her background.”

Rare Orchid Flowers in the Quad of the Michael Smith Building

One of Britain’s rarest flowering plants can currently be seen in the quad of orchid (1)the Faculty’s very own Michael Smith Building. Though never a common plant, the Lady’s Slipper Orchid Cypripedium calceolus was reduced to a population of just one plant in the 1980s, mainly due to the attention of plant enthusiasts and herbarium collectors. The plant was rescued by a conservation project at the Royal Botanic Gardens, and has since been propagated and reintroduced at a number of sites. It is still extremely rare, though, and should not be missed while it’s flowering on our grounds.

The flowering of this orchid will be of particular interest to the plant scientists among us. MPhil student Oliver Hughes has found it especially helpful as he is currently studying the associations of orchids and fungi and hoping to discover ways in which this symbiosis can aid in the further propagation of these rare British flowers.

Lady’s Slipper Orchids are a fascinating plant. They attract bee pollinators by deception, imitating other woodland flowers and producing fragrances which are similar to bee pheromones but offer no nectar reward. Once attracted, bees enter the opening of the yellow slipper or labellum. A combination of the shape, the slippery interior surface, and the placement of transparent windows, helps to guide the bee to exit via a narrow corridor where pollen sacs are deposited on the insect’s back. If the bee blunders into another Lady’s Slipper upon exit, the pollen is deposited on the stigma and pollination occurs.

This particular plant has been grown from seed using sterile propagation techniques on artificial media. The plants are very slow growing, taking 5 to 10 years to reach flowering size. They are also very sensitive to disturbance, so to see the orchid flowering in the quad is quite an achievement. Orchids are among Britain’s most spectacular wild plants, and although there are around fifty species in the UK, roughly a third of these are threatened. The Faculty is proud to have such a rare plant growing on our grounds, and we’re happy that our students may play an important role in their preservation.

Biology Based Courses Receive Accreditation from the Society of Biology

biolabThe Faculty is delighted and honoured to announce that the Society of Biology has accredited all of our biology-based four year degree programmes.

These programmes equip graduates with a competitive edge in an increasingly difficult job market by providing rigorous training in the fundamentals of the eighteen disciplines we cover. Our students undertake original, cutting-edge research, putting into practice the theoretical concepts they learn.

Accreditation recognises the emphasis on students for acquiring practical experience in a research environment and gives our students the best opportunities for securing their chosen PhD programmes or positions within their preferred industry or research institute. The external recognition of excellence provided by The Society represents a huge boost to both current students on the programmes and the staff responsible for their delivery.

World First for Fly Research

flyfacilityThe Faculty of Life Sciences is at the forefront of fly research thanks to a unique scheme from Dr Andreas Prokop. Alongside Cambridge University’s John Roote, Dr Prokop has created the first ever basic training package for research using Drosophila, also known as the fruit fly. It’s hoped that more researchers will be encouraged to use the humble fly when studying conditions such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

The Faculty is host to one of Europe’s biggest fly facilities. It provides temperature controlled rooms for storing fly stocks, dedicated work spaces to sort the flies, and high tech microscopes for training and experiments. The facility is currently used for various studies, with subjects ranging between evolution, cancer, sleep patterns, and drug tolerance.

Drosophila have been used for scientific research for over a century, but many scientists remain unaware of their value. To combat the difficulties that newcomers to flies may face because of this, Dr Prokop put together a training package for undergraduate students. The material assumed no prior knowledge of flies and took students back to basics.

Together with John Roote, Dr Prokop has now taken the student manual to the next level, developing it into a four part training package for all scientists. This includes an introductory manual, a practical session on gender and marker selection, a PowerPoint presentation, and a training exercise in mating scheme design. Sanjai Patel, who manages the Faculty’s Fly Facility, has already seen the impact of the training package:


“I was spending a lot of my time training students how to use the flies for their research. They would struggle with some of the basic concepts and kept coming back with questions. The training manual is self-explanatory. After they’ve been through it they’re usually confident enough to start using the flies.”


The training package has received positive feedback from all who have tested it so far. With the help of this new knowledge, it is hoped that more scientists will be encouraged to make use of the versatile fruit fly in their crucial research in the future.

Science Communication Award 2012

lizgrangerCongratulations to Faculty of Life Sciences’ PhD student Liz Granger who has won the Society of Biology & Wellcome Trust Science Communication Award 2012, in the ‘New Researcher’ category.

Liz’s continued contribution to public engagement demonstrated through her projects during Science Week and Community Open Days and her aim to increase awareness through a range of on-line resources and social media all contributed to her being selected for the Award.

The Society of Biology Science Communication Awards recognise and reward outreach work carried out by biologists to inform, enthuse and engage the wider community. Sue Thorn, Chair of the judging panel, said:

“The standard of entries this year was extremely high, and we had applications from many talented communicators. What struck us about Liz’s application were her innovative ideas and the variety of activities she was involved with. She had some great projects in which she understood how to tailor for different age groups, and went into depth about the science when this was appropriate to the audience.”

Liz received her Award the Society of Biology Science Communication and Photography Awards Ceremony in London, on Tuesday 16th October 2012 and joins other prestigious Faculty of Life Sciences winners such as Emily Robinson (2011 winner) and Ceri Harrop (2009 winner).

Life in the Faculty

Undergraduate Biology student, Helena Davies, has been on placement at the National Botanic Garden of Wales working on a ground breaking project, Barcode Wales. Helena was actively involved in the data analysis side of this project; the results of which were recently published in the journal PLoS ONE.

Since January Helena has been helping to organize the collection of plants, processing some of the first DNA sequences in the laboratory and developing management systems to record every plant sample used. Helena explains:

“I came into the project a month or so after I started my placement at the National Botanic Garden of Wales and helped to analyse some of the data included in the paper. It was fantastic to be so involved in a project with such potential during my year in industry. Being an undergraduate I didn’t think I would be able to contribute to such high impact research, so I feel incredibly lucky to have gained this experience.”

In June, Helena was an author on a published paper on Barcode Wales, a rare achievement for an undergraduate student. Helena says,

“When I found out that I would be one of the authors on the paper I was thrilled. Seeing my name and looking at some of the figures that I had directly worked on published within the paper was fantastic. I just feel extremely fortunate and very grateful to have been given the opportunity to work on Barcode Wales.”

All the DNA barcodes assembled by the Barcode Wales project are now barcodefreely available on the Barcode of Life Database (BOLD), so they can be used by researchers throughout the world. It’s hoped the barcodes will assist in the battle against numerous diseases. For example, one of the ongoing projects between the Garden and the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at Cardiff University will DNA barcode honey with the aim of contributing to drug discovery.

It’s also hoped DNA bar-coding may be able to help scientists combat the crisis facing pollinators like bees and hoverflies which have been dying out at an alarming rate.

Barcode Wales has been led by Dr Natasha de Vere of the National Botanic Garden of Wales with project partners from the National Museum Wales, University of the West of England, Aberystwyth University, Glamorgan University and the Botanical Society of the British Isles, with high performance computing support from HPC Wales.

Helena finished her placement at the Gardens in August, although the team’s work will continue. Helena will return to Manchester in September to enter her final year and hopes to do a PhD in plant science after she graduates.

In fact, Helena says her time at the National Botanic Garden of Wales has changed her life:

“Before I did my placement I had no idea what I wanted to do, although I knew I wanted to stay in science. But I had never even considered plants! This placement has really given me a strong direction and determination to continue in scientific research.”

Plant Sciences student presents rare plant to Prince Charles

PrinceCharlesPlant Sciences student Joe Moughan met His Royal Highness Prince Charles on his recent visit to the National Botanic Garden in Carmarthenshire.

Joe has been on his placement at the Garden for the last year undertaking a research project as part of his Plant Sciences degree and met the Prince when he came to the Garden to speak at a Welsh Food Summit.

Joe had the opportunity to present the Prince with some of his study species, Salvia pratensis – Meadow clary which is extinct in Wales and which he has grown from seed as part of his research project. Prince Charles has a special interest in meadow clary after visiting Romania on a project focused on restoring hay meadows.

Joe says:

“The prince is very interested in restoring hay meadows. We spoke a lot about different plant species. He’s very knowledgeable about them.”

“It really was a once in a life time opportunity and experience!”

You can read more about the Prince’s visit on the BBC’s website:

Prince Charles urges local food strategy in Carmarthen visit

Interview with Michael McKenna, University Challenge team member

Life Sciences BadgeManchester’s University challenge team brought home the trophy this year after a tense battle against Pembroke College, Cambridge, joining winners from 2006 and 2009. After participating in a program viewed by an estimated audience of 3 million, what lasting impressions has the experience left on the team and what is it like returning to university life? We interviewed 21-year old Michael McKenna, an undergraduate biochemist from FLS and the teams science specialist, about his experience and life following the show.

Michael told us how he has always enjoyed watching quiz shows, but admits to only becoming interested in University challenge relatively recently,

“I watched it a couple of times with my parents when I was younger, but the questions were always so far over my head I never really got into it”.

However, since becoming a fan in 2008 he admitted with a laugh that he now gets particularly involved, often shouting answers at the screen.

As the youngest member of the team, a first year undergraduate at the time of filming, we wanted to know what drew him to try out and how he gained his extensive general knowledge. Already a quiz fanatic, Michael said that soon after joining the university he searched for quiz societies and competitions to participate in. This lead him to compete in Oxford as part of a non-televised competition. It was the contacts he made here who encouraged him to try out for the University challenge team. He was particularly modest about his general knowledge simply saying,

“I think I actually have a pretty bad memory for facts, I was chosen because the knowledge I do have complimented the rest of the team.”

Mike spoke fondly of his experiences on the show noting that,

“although in the first few rounds everyone was quite nervous and didn’t really speak much, as the competition drew on people became more relaxed and friendly and I’m still in contact with some of people we met in the later rounds”.

He also revealed that although Jeremy Paxman comes across as relatively stern on TV, whenever there was a dispute over the acceptability of an answer he always sided with the students.

Mike is now settling back into university life and is close to completing his second year of study. Along with his fellow team mates, he now practices with this years team and has formed (what I assume must be a formidable) pub quiz team. He reflects that Manchester’s rigorous selection process and active community of previous team members was hugely beneficial for himself and the team, probably giving them an edge over other universities.

Sarah Fox (May 2012)

Nuffield Student one of top five young scientists in the UK!

nbriggsNiall Briggs, an ‘A’ Level student, undertook a Nuffield Project in the Faculty of Life Sciences which gained him a place in the finals of the National Science and Engineering Competition 2012.

Nuffield Foundation Science Bursaries offer bursaries each year, for students to work alongside professional scientists. Students in the first year of a post-16 science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) course are eligible to apply for a bursary and spend 4-6 weeks over the summer working on a research project.

Niall who is studying at at Holy Cross College in Greater Manchester spent the summer of 2011 in the lab of Professor Kathryn Else in the Faculty of Life Sciences investigating the immune response to intestinal worms.

He was investigating a particular type of intestinal cell called a goblet cell and looking at the role that the cells’ nuclear receptor proteins played during a worm infection. Niall said,

“In my project I carried out a variety of modern immunological techniques, including immunohistochemistry and other staining methods, but also gained an insight into the world of scientific research and worked at the forefront of immunological research, which for an A level student like me was a fantastic experience.”

Niall entered his project for a Gold Crest Award which he achieved, as well as gaining a place in the finals of the National Science and Engineering Competition which were held at the Big Bang Fair in Birmingham. 360 projects were entered and Niall was one of the five shortlisted for a ‘dragons den’ style judging event. Niall said,

“The judges included Professor Jim Al-Khalili OBE, Vivienne Parry OBE, Professor Molly Stevens and Nobel Prize winning biochemist Sir Tim Hunt. As you can imagine it was a very memorable experience! After an intense few days I was awarded with a ‘Highly Commended’ in the Senior Science and Maths Category, so I can proudly say I am one of the top 5 young scientists in the UK!”

Niall has since received an offer from Durham to study Natural Sciences and hopes to go into research afterwards, something he was not considering until completing his Nuffield Bursary.

Find out more: Science Bursaries for Schools and Colleges