Students and Projects

Find out about our students and their research interests.

This year our 2020 cohort attended a Business and Entrepreneurship Summer School at the University of Sussex

   Group photo of the 2020 cohort at University of Sussex for their first Summer School

In September 2021 our induction event was held at Marwell Hotel near Southampton. Students met the SoCoBio Leadership Team, listened to sessions on SoCoBio training, and got to know each other. In addition students enjoyed a visit to Marwell Zoo.

group photo of 2021 cohort standing together outside in wooded area

SoCoBio Students are listed by their host DTP partner

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University of Kent

Charlotte BilsbyCharlotte Bilsby

Year of study: Year 2

BBSRC Theme: Bioscience for renewable resources and clean growth

1st Rotation Project & Final PhD project-  Plastic-eating yeast: towards plastics as feedstocks for synthetic biology. Supervised by Dr Tobias von der Haar (University of Kent) and Dr Andy Pickford (University of Portsmouth).

2nd Rotation Project – Sustainable food security through aquaculture: Establishment of algal technology for optimal aquaculture growth and health. Supervised by Prof Chris Hauton (Ocean and Earth Sciences, University of Southampton), Prof Colin Robinson (School of Biosciences, University of Kent) and Prof Tom Bibby (Ocean and Earth Sciences, University of Southampton)

Charlotte completed her BSc in Marine Biology and Zoology with International Experience at Bangor University, North Wales. During her undergraduate degree she was fortunate enough to spend time at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia. Here she was able to broaden her scientific understanding and skillset with working in a community science laboratory, BioQuisitive. She led a project researching the identification of microbial species in plastic contaminated freshwater systems around Melbourne and the ability of such microbes to co-exist in highly contaminated waters.

Since then, she has undergone and completed a Masters of Research in Microbiology in the von der Haar lab, where she researched the development of novel bioremediation systems for microplastic contaminated soils using Dictyostelium discoideum as a model organism. The project focused largely on the application potential of the PETase enzyme to help reduce environmental plastic pollution. This project gave Charlotte the opportunity to develop her skills in Synthetic biology, Microbiology whilst being able to apply her knowledge of Ecology from her BSc.

In her spare time Charlotte enjoys swimming in the sea (all year round), taking her paddleboard out, and doing litter picks with the charity ‘Plastic patrol’. She is a keen novice sourdough maker, unstable long-boarder and avid blogger, and will happily give everything a go at least once.

Her current project with the SoCoBio DTP links back to her interests in reducing plastic pollution, where once more she is working with the PETase enzyme and the model organism Saccharomyces cerevisiae to develop ways to biologically degrade PET plastic materials. The project aims to create an efficient fungal expression system for the PETase enzyme, that is capable of decomposing plastic materials to their original building blocks creating a circular recycling loop with minimal environmental impact. From here ways in which this organism can applied to industry will be explored.

She spent her second rotation developing algal vaccination candidates that can be utilised in low-income countries to increase sustainability in aquaculture practices. The vaccines are targeting the GapA protein that can be used as a surface antigen in gram-positive bacterium such as Streptococcus algalactiae. She has gained experience in protein expression, cloning and algal transformations and hopes to be able to utilise these skills throughout her PhD and future career.

Victoria CheungPortrait image of Victoria

Year of study: Year 2

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the rules of life

1st Rotation Project: Live long and prosper: probing the mechanism of a transporter family linked to lifespan extension, protection from diabetes and obesity, and cancer. Supervised by Dr Christopher Mulligan (University of Kent) and Professor Syma Khalid (University of Southampton).

2nd Rotation Project & Final PhD project: Development of selective CLIC1 inhibitors for the treatment of glioblastoma. Supervised by Dr Jose Ortega-Roldan (UKent), Dr Mariana Oana Popa (USussx) and Prof Jeffrey Hill (USussx)

Vicky is a second year PhD student fascinated by the structural and mechanistic complexity of proteins and its diverse roles. After obtaining her BSc (Hons) in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Kent with First Class Honours, she is excited to go further and explore the structural and functional properties of membrane proteins linked to diabetes, lifespan extension and cancer.

Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most aggressive and prevalent form of primary brain cancer and it’s poor prognosis makes GBM a public health concern. Even with current therapeutic strategies in place, GBM patients have a median survival rate of 12-15 months. Increasingly, evidence points towards chloride channels promoting oncogenic development with its high level of activity during tumorigenesis. Intriguingly, the metamorphic nature of the human chloride intracellular channel 1 (CLIC1) serves as a biological switch for malignant transformation in which only the channel form is carcinogenic. This distinct feature could pave way for novel, selective cancer therapy which would potentially spare normal cells making CLIC1 a highly promising pharmacological target. Therefore, our aim is to develop selective inhibitors to CLIC1 with antiproliferative activity in glioblastoma using cutting-edge biophysical characterisation tools, nanodisc technology, in vitro/in vivo drug screens using anion-sensitive yellow fluorescent proteins to determine functional activity in recombinant CLIC1 expressed in CHO cells and cell-based screening in glioblastoma cell lines where CLIC1 is overactivated for the treatment of GBM.

In her free time, Vicky likes to keep busy with boxing and kickboxing having captained both societies during her undergraduate studies at Kent. Vicky is also passionate about food, travelling and art.

Fiona Dresel

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the rules of life

1st Rotation Project: Investigating metabolic dysfunction as a driver of Motor Neuron Disease supervised by Dr Campbell Gourlay (University of Kent) and Prof. Majid Hafezparast (University of Sussex)

Fiona obtained a First class (hons) during her Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Science at the University of Kent, Canterbury. Whilst studying for her undergraduate degree she had the chance to complete a final year research project where she investigated nutritional immunity as a method to regulate biofilm growth on voice protheses, and its effect on antifungal drug resistance. The results from this project contributed to a larger scale study and have been used to provide insights into the fungal colonisation of medical devices.

She then decided to continue to a Masters level of research and undertake an MSc-R to further improve and increase her cell biology skillset and understanding of yeast. This Masters project investigated the roles of RAS in controlling cell fate using yeast to further elucidate its oncogenic potential. This project gave Fiona the opportunity to develop her skills in cell culturing and genetic manipulation of various microorganisms.

Coming from a biomedical science background, Fiona is particularly interested in the bioscience for an integrated understanding of health. This is why she chose her PhD project on Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as an incurable and devastating motor neurone disease. The aims of this project is to increase our understanding of the metabolic dysfunction that underpins ALS pathology.

In her free time, Fiona enjoys playing the violin, and exploring new countries and cities while eating all the food. She is also always on the hunt for new books especially on art history and tries to convince the world that Bavaria is actually near Germany.

Isabella GarciaPhoto of Isabella

Year of study: Year 2

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the rules of life

1st Rotation project: Friendly fire: understanding regulation of the genome editing enzyme APOBEC3A in cell growth and anti-viral responses (CASE Project). Supervised by Dr Tim Fenton (University of Kent), Professor Michelle West (University of Sussex) and Maria Emanuela Cuomo (AstraZeneca).

2nd Rotation project & Final PhD project: How does mis-activation of testis-specific genes disrupt mitotic cell division? (CASE project). Supervised by Dr Peter Ellis (University of Kent), Dr Tim Fenton (University of Kent) and Industry CASE partner Lee Larcombe (Applied Exomics).

Isabella is currently completing her first lab rotation at The University of Kent under the supervision of Dr Tim Fenton, after obtaining a First class (hons) Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Science from The University of Kent. During Isabella’s final year research project, she realised that she wanted to continue within research and choose to apply to the SoCoBio programme. Her research project focused on cancer, specifically ER+ breast cancer. The aim was to determine the resistance mechanism used by a specific ER+ breast cancer cell line to a novel cancer therapeutic. This project lead to her interest in cancer research, and as a result she chose to continue her research within the cancer research field. Isabella’s current lab rotation aims to understand the role and regulation of the gene APOBEC3A. APOBEC3A is a cytidine deaminase, which has a specific role within the innate immune system but has also been linked to oncogenic mutations seen within many cancers. This research is truly fascinating and has the potential to provide a massive impact in cancer research. Isabella is excited to see where this project goes and what findings they will produce.

Sam Jones

Year of study: Year 2

BBSRC Theme: Bioscience for an integrated understanding of health

1st Rotation Project: Next generation mitochondrial inhibitors – a new approach to prevent fungal biofilm formation on medical implants (CASE Project). Supervised by Dr Campbell Gourlay (University of Kent), Tony Moore (University of Sussex) and Eric Pagan (Smiths Medical Inc).

2nd Rotation Project & Final PhD project: Enzymology of the B12-dependent rSAM protein superfamily. Supervised by Dr Andrew Lawrence (University of Kent) and Prof Peter L. Roach (University of Southampton).

Noviann Antonique McLeanNoviann head and shoulders photo

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Understanding Rules of Life

1st Rotation Project: Deciphering the role of the proteasome in healthy ageing supervised by Dr Jerome Korzelius (University of Kent), Dr Paul Skipp (University of Southampton) and Dr Alessandro Ori (LI/Leibniz Institute on Ageing, Jena, Germany)

Noviann obtained her Associates of Science (AS) degree at the University College of the Cayman Islands. She later pursued her Bachelors in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Southampton and remained there to complete her Masters of Neuroscience degree graduating with a distinction. She had the opportunity to work closely with expert researchers and PhD students conducting ongoing Alzheimer’s disease research. She also completed an independent research project focusing on the initial biochemical changes that occur in Alzheimer’s disease; specifically the effects of hyperphosphorylation of the GluN2B NMDA receptor subunit on synaptic plasticity in Alzheimer’s disease. The general consensus was that understanding the initiation of the pathology can give insight to future and effective therapeutics.

Her first rotation project seeks to characterise the interactome of the proteasome, in vivo using Drosophila melanogaster, and observe how it changes over time (young, middle age, old) and between different tissues. From this the knock down and over expression of the proteins that change overtime will allow for the modulation of the proteaosme which will give insight into potential therapeutics for age-related diseases. As it is widely known that proteostasis declines with ageing and is characteristic of various diseases that mainly affects the elderly such as Alzheimer’s disease. This project will add to her biological and biochemical skills as well as allow her to build her microbiological and proteomics skills. This project complements her research interest and passion as she is presently one of the directors and dementia educators for the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Association of the Cayman Islands (ADACI).

In her free time, Noviann enjoys staying active and playing sports. One of her favourites is netball and she is a member of the senior Cayman Islands National Netball team. She also loves listening to music, reading, observing nature and sitting by the beach when she visits home.

Thomas Paige

Year of study: Year 1
BBSRC Theme:
1st Rotation Project: The path to least resistance: investigating the role of an integral membrane protein family that is essential for bacterial antimicrobial resistance supervised by Dr Christopher Mulligan (University of Kent) and Prof. Syma Khalid (University of Southampton)

Kseniia Pidlisna (Industry co-funded Studentship)

Year of study: Year 2

BBSRC Theme: Bioscience for renewable resources and clean growth

Project Title and supervisors: Unravelling Genome Packaging during Recombinant AAV (rAAV) Gene Therapy Viral Vector Production. Supervised by Professor Mark Smales (University of Kent), Dr Emma Hargreaves (University of Kent) and Daniel Smith (Cobra Biologics).

Paige Policelliphoto of Paige

Year of study: Year 2

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the rules of life

1st Rotation Project: Assembly and Dynamics of DNA Repair Complexes. Supervised by Dr Neil Kad (University of Kent) Professor Laurence Pearl (University of Sussex) and Dr Antony Oliver (University of Sussex).

2nd Rotation Project & Final PhD project: Friendly fire: understanding regulation of the genome editing enzyme APOBEC3A in cell growth and anti-viral responses (CASE project). Supervised by Dr Tim Fenton (University of Kent), Prof Michelle West (University of Sussex) and industry partner Dr Maria Emanuela Cuomo, Associate Director, UK Lead for Cell Biology and Genome Editing / CRISPR (AstraZeneca).

Paige recently graduated with a First class Honours in Biochemistry from the University of Kent, where she was also awarded the Faculty of Sciences Rotary Prize for high academic performance. Paige’s interests focus on protein biochemistry, but in particular how the complexities of binding site architecture and kinetics regulate important protein functionalities.

Following her passion, she has had work experience in top institutions. At the Francis Crick Institution, Paige “knocked-out” rho-associated kinase (ROCK) in order to prevent the metastasis of renal cancer cell lines (HEK293T) in the hope of this being a therapeutic target in the future. At the Institute for Cancer Research (ICR), Paige was investigating the effect of tyrosine kinase inhibitors to counteract the upregulation of VEGF in renal cancer cell lines (786-0), preventing angiogenesis and consequent renal tumour growth.

Paige has also recently completed an internship at AbBaltis, developing ELISAs that can reliably detect IgG/IgM antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins during the Covid-19 pandemic. She also conducted other immunology tests including allergen line blots and IIFT to diagnose autoimmune diseases.

At Kent, Paige is currently studying the assembly and dynamics of the DNA structural maintenance protein, Smc5/6. This one-of-a-kind research allows the visualisation of Smc5/6 binding onto constructed bacteriophage λ DNA tightropes in real-time via single-molecule techniques. Collaborating with the University of Sussex, Paige will be investigating questions such as: How does Smc5/6 bind to dsDNA/ssDNA? How do Nse components come into play? What is the significance of ATP hydrolysis? Understanding how Smc5/6 ensures the fidelity of homologous recombination is fundamental in the understanding of DNA repair and the basis of major disease.

Outside of academia, Paige was vice-chair woman for UKC Women’s Football Team. By completing a PhD, Paige hopes to develop expert knowledge, network and meet a community of fantastic scientists whilst travelling and being able to communicate her science effectively.

Richard Stack 

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the rules of life

1st Rotation Project: The effect of the microbiome and microbial bioactives on semen quality and reproductive health supervised by Dr Gary Robinson
Peter Ellis (University of Kent) and Professor Sheryl Homa (Andrology Solutions )

Richard was previously a Senior Sexual Health Adviser at 56 Dean Street, Europe’s busiest sexual health service. He was local lead for the Gonococcal resistance to antimicrobials surveillance programme (GRASP), Lymphogranuloma venereum surveillance (an emerging biovar of Chlamydia), and offered risk reduction counselling as part of the MRC PROUD HIV PrEP study.

After moving to work in the mental health field he undertook an MSc in Infectious Disease at The University of Kent to satisfy his passion for science, where he obtained a Distinction along with a prize for the best performing student. His research thesis focused on the induction of APOBEC3A by Influenza A, and sought to elucidate a link between this innate immune response and the APOBEC signature mutation seen in some lung cancers.

His current work on the male reproductive microbiome has offered him an opportunity to bring his experience in sexual health into the laboratory, and he hopes to discover more about the potential role of the microbiota in fertility. To begin with he is learning how to assess sperm parameters (DNA fragmentation, morphology and motility), using techniques such as flow cytometry, and will explore how these parameters are impacted in the presence of bacteria characteristic of the emerging reproductive microbiome.

Bree Streather

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme:

1st Rotation Project: The development and commercialisation of Supramolecular Self-associating Antimicrobials (SSAs) supervised by Prof Dan Mulvihill (University of Kent), Dr Jennifer Hiscock (University of Kent) and Jonathan Essex (University of Southampton)

Bree obtained a First Class (Hons) Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry before undertaking a Research Master’s, both at the University of Kent. Her Master’s project focussed on structural analysis of a DedA protein found in E. coli that is thought to confer antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Finding solutions to the AMR problem is something that she is very interested in.

Alongside her studies, Bree enjoys reading, listening to music and going to the cinema. She is also very passionate about environmental issues and climate change.

Robert Ulrich (Industry co-funded Studentship)

Year of study: Year 2

BBSRC Theme: Bioscience for renewable resources and clean growth

Project Title and supervisors: Identification and characterisation of vitamin B12 binding proteins for use in B12 extraction and purification. Supervised by Prof Martin Warren (University of Kent),  Dr Hartwig Schroeder (BASF) and Dr Evelyn Deery (University of Kent).

Roman Urban

Year of study: Year 2

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the rules of life

1st Rotation Project: Development of selective CLIC1 inhibitors for the treatment of glioblastoma. Supervised by Dr Jose Ortega-Roldan (University of Kent), Dr Mariana Oana Popa (University of Sussex) and Professor Jeffrey Hill (University of Sussex).

2nd Rotation Project: Assembly and Dynamics of DNA Repair Complexes. Supervised by Neil Kad (UKent), Laurence Pearl (USusx) and Antony Oliver (USusx).

Hannah Uri

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme:

1st Rotation Project: Identification of determinants of virus phenotypes, including SARS Coronavirus-2/COVID-19 supervised by Dr Mark Wass (University of Kent), Martin Michaelis, (University of Kent) and Christopher McCormick (University of Southampton).

Chloe Uylprofile picture of Chloe

Year of study: Year 2

BBSRC Theme: Bioscience for renewable resources and clean growth

1st Rotation Project & Final PhD project: Improving Second-Generation Biofuel Production: Exploiting the Natural Diversity of the Yeast Scheffersomyces Stipitis (Case Project). Supervised by Dr Alessia Buscaino (Primary supervisor: University of Kent), Dr Oliver Severn (Co-supervisor: Singer Instruments).

2nd Rotation Project: Plastic-eating yeast: towards plastics as feedstocks for synthetic biology. Supervised by Dr Tobias von der Haar (University of Kent) and Dr Andy Pickford (University of Portsmouth).

Chloe obtained a First class (hons) during her Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Science at the University of Kent (Canterbury) from 2017-2021. After completing the second year of her undergraduate degree, Chloe undertook a summer internship in the Toseland laboratory (University of Kent). The aim of the project was to biochemically characterise where RNA Polymerase II (Pol II) binds to Myosin VI (MVI) by designing a novel fluorescent assay using whole cell lysates. At the end of the project, she attended a nucleic acids conference at The Royal Society of Chemistry in London, to co-present the research in the form of a poster. During the third year of her undergraduate degree, she decided to choose a laboratory-based research project in Microbiology. Here, she began researching genome diversity in the yeast Scheffersomyces stipitis with Dr Alessia Buscaino as her supervisor.

Chloe has joined Dr Alessia Buscaino’s laboratory, part of the Kent Fungal Group, to continue researching genome diversity of Scheffersomyces stipitis for her PhD in Microbiology. The aim of which is to improve second generation bioethanol production, for a renewable and sustainable energy source.

NIAB-EMR

David FisherProfile picture of David

Year of study: Year 2

BBSRC Theme: Bioscience for Sustainable Agriculture and Food

1st Rotation Project & Final PhD project: Environmental and intra/interspecific approaches to nutrient security – Fruit for the UK’s food security, Supervisors: Dr Eleftheria Stavridou (NIAB EMR), Dr Andrew Simkin (NIAB EMR), Prof Guy Poppy (University of Southampton), and Dr Jenny Baverstock (University of Southampton).

2nd Rotation Project: Genomic constrains on domestication: Why are so few species domesticated? Supervised by Dr Mark Chapman (University of Southampton) and Prof Adam Eyre-Walker (University of Sussex).

David graduated from the University of Southampton in 2020 with a BSc (hons) in Biology. His research interests include molecular and evolutionary plant biology. Of particular interest is understanding the factors that can influence important agronomic traits, including stress tolerance, resource efficiency and nutritional composition. Such research is part of the ongoing effort to ensure that everyone always has access to enough nutritious food, in a future where rapid climate changes and demographic shifts pose major threats to food and nutrient security.

Prior to joining the DTP, David has worked on assembling and annotating novel genome sequences for several underutilised plant species. Additionally, he has used a comparative genomics approach to identify genes which could be linked to local adaptations in legumes.

David’s work during his first rotation began to investigate the impact of genetic variability and pre-harvest environment on the nutritional quality of strawberry fruit. The covid-19 pandemic has served as a poignant reminder of both the importance, and fragility of current food systems in supplying adequate dietary micronutrients, with regards to safeguarding public health. Understanding how to better select, grow and store fruit and vegetables to maximise their nutritional content, will be an important tool for improving widespread access to nutritious foods.

In his second rotation, David is using NGS resequencing data to identify transposon insertion polymorphisms (genomic sites where a transposable element is either present or absent) in wild and domesticated Brassicas. Transposable elements are known to alter gene structure and expression. Identifying polymorphic sites could, therefore, better our understanding of the role played by transposable elements in the domestication of Brassicas, and the subsequent diversification of species/subspecies seen today.

Erick Gomes Oliveira

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food

1st Rotation Project: Manipulation of chloroplast density to enhance photosynthesis and nutritional value of tomato supervised by Dr Andrew Simkin (NIAB EMR) and Prof Matthew Terry (University of Southampton)

Erick Oliveira was awarded his undergraduate degree in Forestry Engineering from the University of Brasilia, Brazil before going on to study a Msc in Advanced Biology from the University of Seville, Spain.

As part of his undergraduate degree he spent two years working at EMBRAPA, The Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation investigating the expression of genes involved in reproduction in Brachiaria brizantha, a grass of interest within biotechnology. For his Masters thesis Erick worked on a Plant Physiology project that looked at the effect of Plant Growth-Promoting Rhizobacteria on strawberries exposed to draught conditions. Prior to starting this PhD Erick was helping in the fight against COVID-19 by working as a lab scientist at one of the diagnostic laboratories in Manchester.

For his first rotation Erick is working on the manipulation of chloroplast density to enhance photosynthesis and nutritional value of tomato with Dr Andrew Simkin (NIAB EMR) and Dr Mathhew Terry (University of Southampton).  The overall aim of this project is to manipulate chloroplast development and density to produce tomato plants with higher pigment content, enhanced photosynthetic performance, increased yield, and faster developmental performance (i.e. early harvest).

Erick’s research interests revolve around the creation of novel biotools in order to create more efficient and sustainable agriculture across the globe. Outside of the laboratory Erick has a keen interest in languages speaking Portuguese, Spanish, English and currently learning French.

Jacob HudsonJacob standing in front of blue background

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food

1st Rotation Project: How to build a super phage: Understanding and improving bacteriophage biocontrol of Pseudomonas syringae pathovars supervised by Dr Matevz Papp-Rupar (NIAB EMR) and Dr Franklin L. Nobrega (University of Southampton).

Jake Hudson was awarded his BSc (Hons) in Biochemistry from the University of Surrey in, before joining the SoCoBio DTP.

As part of his undergraduate degree he undertook a placement year at Public Health England Porton, analysing of the antibody isotypes generated against ebolavirus within an ebolavirus disease survivor cohort using flow cytometry and ELISA. For his undergraduate dissertation, he studied the role of dengue viral protein NS1 in vascular haemorrhage by examining the impact of dengue NS1 on the endothelial glycocalyx in endothelial cell and pericyte co-cultures.

Jake loves caring for his houseplants and growing vegetables in his spare time, which encouraged him to change direction to study plant based disease instead of human. His current project aims to use bacteriophages to cure and prevent bacterial canker on Prunus spp., specifically cherry.

Outside of plants he loves climbing, hiking, and playing board games. He hopes a PhD will lead him into a career in academia, or failing that help him to develop his skills in education, teaching, and science communication.

University of Portsmouth

Konstantinos Tornesakis

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the rules of life / Bioscience for renewable resources and clean growth

1st Rotation Project: Computational predictions of thermostability and binding affinity changes in enzymes supervised by Prof Paul Cox (University of Portsmouth), Prof Jonathan W. Essex (University of Southampton) and Dr Gerhard Koenig (University of Portsmouth).

Konstantinos was awarded his B.Sc. degree (Integrated Master) in Biotechnology from the Agricultural University of Athens, prior to his M.Sc. studies in Systems Biology in the same university. During his studies, he undertook a thesis project in enzymology and a master thesis in plant stress metabolomics. For the first one, he studied the interactions between human glutathione-S-Transferase isoenzymes with natural and synthetic compounds for potential inhibition processes, while for the latter he focused on plant stress metabolomics, evaluating the tolerance of various legumes in salinity stress.

During his undergraduate degree, he also did a traineeship in the Biochemical Laboratory of the Institute of Child Health as a laboratory assistant, while for his master he undertook two laboratory placements in bioinformatics and plant stress physiology, in the Agricultural University of Athens.

Konstantinos’ interests are related to the enzymatic catalysis and its improvement through engineering towards environmentally friendly applications. In the Centre of Enzyme Innovation, and under the supervision of Prof. Cox, Prof. Essex and Dr. Koenig, Konstantinos will use computational methodologies in order to study mutants of a lyase enzyme for improved efficiency in assimilation of C1 compounds.

University of Southampton

Fiyinfoluwa AdenekanPicture of Fiyin working in a lab

Year of study: Year 2

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the Rules of Life

1st Rotation Project & Final PhD project: Identification and activity of new regulators of cell division. Supervised by Dr Marcin Przewloka (School of Biological Sciences, University of Southampton) and Dr Helfrid Hochegger (University of Sussex).

2nd Rotation Project: Interrogating the b-catenin interactome for novel modulators of Wnt signaling. Supervised by Dr Rob Ewing (School of Biological Sciences, University of Southampton) and Dr Rhys Morgan (School of Life Sciences, University of Sussex).

Fiyin’s interest is improving the scientific community’s understanding genetic regulatory networks in everyday biological processes. As the expression or suppression of gene may be responsible for diseases.

In July 2016, Fiyin graduated from The University of Portsmouth in Biology (BSc). In his final year project, he investigated the localisation of haemopoietic stem cell factors during Xenopus embryogenesis which involved a range of immunohistochemistry techniques to probe proteins responsible for blood cell differentiation. This inspired him to learn more about cells and mechanisms that controls cells. In September 2017, he completed an MRes at Portsmouth that investigated the role of Histone variants.

This project will investigate potential regulators of Cell division. A proteomics screen identified a list of proteins that may contribute to cell division. This will be confirmed through the application of CRISPR editing, bioinformatics and observed via time lapse microscopy.

Austeja BakulaiteAuste profile photo

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the rules of life

1st Rotation Project: Network and topological modelling of transition states in the Wnt signalling pathway supervised by Dr Rob Ewing (University of Southampton), Dr Ruben Sanchez Garcia, (University of Southampton) and Dr Rhys Morgan(University of Sussex).

In 2020, Auste graduated with BSc Biomedical sciences from University of Brighton. During her final year project, Auste investigated the effects of RGFP966, a histone deacetylase 3 inhibitor, on the viability of tumour-associated macrophages and the expression of certain macrophage markers, which led to her developing interest in cancer research.

Later, in 2021, Auste graduated with MSc by research Biomedical sciences from the University of Edinburgh. During her MSc, Auste investigated type I interferon induction in senescent cells as well as characterized the function of a protein – KDM8, implicated in numerous types of tumours, and identified its’ interactors in pancreatic adenocarcinoma cells.

She is currently a Postgraduate Research Student within Biological Sciences at the University of Southampton, studying Cancer-associated protein-protein interaction networks. In particular, she is investigating proteins, which are potentially interacting with ubiquitin specific protease 7 (USP7), a deubiquitinating enzyme, associated with many different cancer types. This could help with understanding USP7 role in cancer as well as lead to the discovery of novel targets for anti-cancer therapeutics.

In her free time, Auste enjoys playing guitar and going on walks.

Brandon Coke

Year of study: Year 2

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the Rules of Life

1st Rotation Projects & Final PhD project: Interrogating the b-catenin interactome for novel modulators of Wnt signaling. Supervised by Dr Rob Ewing (School of Biological Sciences, University of Southampton) Dr Rhys Morgan (School of Life Sciences, University of Sussex).

2nd Rotation Projects: Identification and activity of new regulators of cell division. Supervised by Dr Marcin Przewloka (School of Biological Sciences, University of Southampton) and Dr Helfrid Hochegger (University of Sussx).

Brandon is a recent Biochemistry masters graduate from the University of Birmingham. Throughout his undergraduate degree he extensively worked with R and Python’s PANDAS library for data analysis to analyse and present data ranging from enzyme kinetics, drug response curves and qPCR data. During his masters, Brandon studied in Dr Nik Hodge’s lab to develop 3D liver organoids for toxicological testing. This project assessed whether culturing cells as 3D organoids as opposed to conventional 2D cultures improves their sensitivity to genotoxicants in the comet and γ-H2AX assays. This experience allowed him to develop his skills in growing and maintaining both conventional 2D and 3D organoid mammalian cell cultures, qPCR and data analysis in R. Additionally, during his undergraduate degree  he worked as an intern at local molecular diagnostics company specialising in – Advanced Molecular diagnostics and helping them develop materials for their numerous qPCR products destined for the UK market.

Currently, Brandon is working with Dr Ewing’s and Dr Morgan’s groups to uncover novel β-catenin protein-protein interactions. Although there are well established β-catenin interactions with cadherins, the destruction complex and the LEF-1; there are also more obscure but nonetheless relevant protein interactions with other oncogenic and tumour-repressor proteins. Consequently, identifying these interactions may enable the development of novel cancer therapies. The project is primarily focused on the β-catenin interactome in leukemic cells; however, the analysis has expanded to other cancer cell lines to identify differences and commonalities in the β-catenin interactomes. This analysis includes analysing proteomic data across these cell lines to perform both gene ontology (GO) analysis to identify common molecular functions and biological process the β-catenin interacting proteins and to produce GO enrichment maps to understand the links between the GO terms. The analysis also includes using RNA-seq data to assess whether expression of these interacting proteins significantly change in cancer. This analysis will eventually lead to wet-lab experiments to elucidate the role of the novel β-catenin binding proteins and assess their potential as druggable targets for cancer treatment.

Brandon’s main interests in research is the use of bioinformatic tools as of its ability to provide a far greater insight into the intricate mechanism behind the complex biology behind the inner workings of cells due their ability to pool together large data sets. Finally, Brandon has a keen interest in using R and Python programming due to their applicability in a diverse array of tasks ranging from data analysis, data presentation and automation of repetitive tasks.

Matthew Davis-LunnMatt standing leaning against an art sculpture

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the rules of life

1st Rotation Project: Defining the role of the talin-kindlin-integrin axis in the regulation of neurite outgrowth supervised by Dr Melissa Andrews (University of Southampton) and Dr Ben T. Goult (University of Kent).

Matt graduated from the University of Surrey with a BSc in Biochemistry before coming to Southampton to pursue a MRes focusing towards neuroscience. Here, his project focused upon the role of focal adhesion kinase in regulating neurite outgrowth.

Matt’s research interest is in neuronal biochemistry, and following a successful masters project in this field he is continuing at Southampton for his first rotation project which more widely encompasses the focal adhesion proteins regulating integrin activation, and their potential application to neuroregeneration. Matt aims to direct his own research throughout his career, and as such hopes pursuing a PhD will develop his ability to do this, whilst similarly gaining experience in entrepreneurship and scientific communication through other training provided by the SoCoBio DTP.

Outside of the lab, Matt can usually be found at a gig, catching up with the football, or just having a coffee nearby, but also takes a keen interest in other topics around neuroscience and cognitive function.

Oreoluwa Fakeye

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme:

1st Rotation Project: Diversity and regulation of GluN1-NMDA receptor subunits in health and disease supervised by Dr Mariana Vargas-Caballero (University of Southampton), K. Deinhardt (University of Southampton) and Andrew Penn (University of Sussex).

Johanna Fishprofile photo of Johanna

DTP Wellbeing Champion

Year of study: Year 2

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the Rules of Life

1st Rotation Project: Dissecting Signalling Pathways with PROTAC Chemical Probes. Supervised by Dr Matthias Baud (School of Chemistry, University of Southampton), Professor Bruno Linclau (School of Chemistry, University of Southampton), and Professor Georgios Giamas (USussex).

2nd Rotation Project: Biosynthetic Potential of the Radical SAM Enzyme Lipoyl Synthase. Supervised by Prof Peter L. Roach (University of Southampton) and Prof John Spencer (University of Sussex).

Having completed her undergraduate degree in Chemistry, Johanna offers a slightly different perspective into biological research. Her passions within science, combined with the DTP, facilitates the interface of biology and chemistry to be brought together for rational drug design and development, a major area of growth in industry. She also acknowledges the responsibility within the chemical industry to pursue greener alternatives and to reduce carbon emissions where possible. The possibility of manipulating enzymes to catalyse reactions is an incredibly valuable tool to lessen the impact to the environment.

Her undergraduate studies allowed a diverse, comprehensive study and development of chemical and biological techniques, completing projects in medicinal chemistry, total synthesis, immunology, and biochemistry in the UK and abroad.

The projects she pursues this year will continue to allow her skill development and understanding of structure-activity relationships (SAR) within drug design. This focusses on the design, synthesis, and evaluation of small-molecule inhibitors of E3 ligases, for incorporation into PROTACs. These will be evaluated by biophysical techniques (NMR, ITC, DSF).

Outside of the lab, Johanna enjoys hiking, climbing, travelling, cooking and the performing arts. She also loves psychology and recognises the importance of helping people with their mental health and is working towards gaining counselling qualifications.

Laura May Freeman BSc AMRSBpicture of Laura

Year of study: Year 2

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the Rules of Life

1st Rotation Project & Final PhD project: Microbes and the ageing brain: do host-microbe interactions accelerate age-related cognitive decline? Supervised by Professor Jessica Teeling and Dr Marina Ezcurra

2nd Rotation Project: Bioactive natural products from the microbiome – an innovative approach to healthy ageing (CASE project). Supervised by Dr Marina Ezcurra (University of Kent), and Industry partner Dr Kieron Edwards, Chief Scientific Officer at Sibelius Natural Products.

In July 2020, Laura graduated from the University of Kent with a first-class degree in Biomedical Science with a Sandwich Year with honours. She was awarded the University of Kent Faculty of Sciences Rotary Prize for her academic achievement during her degree. In the final year of her degree, she carried out an eight-week laboratory research project that aimed to understand the effect of alternative splicing on the structure and function of the transcription factor ZFY during spermatogenesis. To achieve this, she expressed and purified the spliced isoform and compared the purification products to the full-length isoform, and performed bioinformatic analysis to identify specific motifs that are absent in the spliced isoform and may be responsible for its loss of function in yeast reporter systems(Decarpentrie et al., 2012). To understand whether the highly conserved motif identified in full length but absent from the spliced isoform was responsible for transcriptional activation, she designed primers and carried out site directed mutagenesis to change the primary sequence of the motif. Laura undertook a sandwich year placement at the flavours and fragrance company Givaudan UK Ltd where she undertook an independent microbiology research project, during which she carried out and optimized a new biochemical assay. Laura has recently been awarded the Royal Society of Biology Advanced Accreditation Top Student Project Award for this project.

During her undergraduate degree, she developed a strong interest in the immune system including its regulation, pathogen detection and the consequences of immune cell deficiencies or overactivity. Her passion to learn more about microbe and immune cell interactions and the consequences of chronic immune activation lead her to her PhD project. During her PhD she will be investigating whether amyloid-β fibrillization is increased by systemic infection throughout ageing as part of the innate immune response leading to amyloid plaque deposition and neurodegeneration, and the mechanism that activates this response. To study the immune response that stimulates amyloid-β fibrillization, she will investigate neuronal function, immune cell infiltration, amyloid deposition, gut permeability and microbiome composition in response to infection in in vivo model systems (Caenorhabditis elegans and mouse). Using the immune mechanisms identified to activate amyloid-β fibrillization and subsequent plaque formation in response to systemic infection, she will use pharmacological and/or dietary approaches to disrupt the initial host-microbe interactions and therefore delay neurodegeneration.

Dementia has a huge effect on many people in the UK, whether they are suffering from the disease or care for someone that is. It is her aspiration that the findings of her PhD will have a beneficial impact on those effected by being used to develop therapeutics to disrupt the mechanism of amyloid plaque deposition in response to infection during ageing. Throughout her PhD, she would like to develop as a researcher by being able to solve problems more efficiently and sharing her findings comprehensively through oral and written communication.

Laura is keen to help others and loves volunteering, for example during her undergraduate degree she was the president of the fundraising society UKC Girl UP. In her free time you will usually find her on the water doing stand-up paddle boarding. Laura has been playing the flute and saxophone for over 10 years and enjoys playing in both concert and jazz bands.

Decarpentrie, F. et al. (2012) ‘Human and mouse ZFY genes produce a conserved testis-specific transcript encoding a zinc finger protein with a short acidic domain and modified transactivation potential’, Human Molecular Genetics, 21(12), pp. 2631–2645. doi: 10.1093/hmg/dds088.

Amanda Gilbert

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme:

1st Rotation Project: Liver organoid systems to identify metabolic signalling functions underlying liver regeneration and enhance drug discovery supervised by Dr Nicole Prior (University of Southampton) and Professor Jeffrey Hill (University of Sussex)

Johanna Haszczyn (Industry Co-funded Studentship)Picture of Johanna

Year of study: Year 2

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the rules of life

Project Title and supervisors: Investigations of the determinants of nerve agent potency to define novel routes to mitigate the effects of environmental toxins. Supervised by, Professor Vincent O’Connor, Professor Lindy Holden-Dye, Dr. Chris Green, Dr James Kearn and Dr. John Tattersall

In 2020 Johanna finished her undergraduate degree in Pharmacology. During this period, she realised her affinity towards toxicology and neuroscience, and she was enveloped by the potential to research after completing her final year dissertation. These experiences cemented her decision to commence her own research, in particular with anticholinesterases.

The inhibition of acetylcholinesterase by carbamates and organophosphates results in the continuous stimulation of nicotinic and muscarinic cholinergic receptors. This can be fatal due to the lack of recovery from the effects on the autonomic, neuromuscular and central neurotransmission. This form of acute poisoning has been seen in nerve agent attacks, such as in Salisbury and Tomsk, but is also prevalent in agricultural environments with the use of organophosphate pesticides, especially in the developing world. The treatments currently available have limitations, with no antidote readily available.

The project hopes to understand the mechanisms of this intoxication and to identify novel routes of mitigation of the effects seen in anticholinesterase poisoning in the C. elegans model.

Steven HoughtonSteven Houghton working in laboratory

Year of study: Year 2

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the rules of life

1st Rotation Project & Final PhD project: Analysing the functional significance of a primate-specific non-canonical glutamate receptor subunit. Supervised by Dr Mariana Vargas-Caballero (School of Biological Sciences, University of Southampton), Dr Katrin Deinhardt (School of Biological Sciences, University of Southampton), Dr Andrew Penn (University of Sussex), and Professor Louise Serpell (University of Sussex).

2nd Rotation Project: Microbes and the ageing brain: do host-microbe interactions accelerate age-related cognitive decline? Supervised by Dr Jessica Teeling University of Southampton and Dr Marina Ezcurra University of Kent.

In 2019, Steven graduated from the University of Southampton with a first-class integrated master’s of Biochemistry degree with honours. During his master’s year he completed a 5-month laboratory project supervised by Dr Mariana Vargas-Caballero that aimed to investigate whether a second shorter isoform of the GluN2A NMDA receptor subunit—called GluN2A-S—is incorporated as part of a functional receptor at the plasma membrane. This was investigated by exogenously expressing a plasmid encoding GluN2A-S in the Human Embryonic Kidney (HEK293) cell line and recording the electrical properties of the cell using whole cell patch clamp electrophysiological recordings. This work continued into an 8 week post-graduate summer internship funded by the ARUK pump priming grant and lead to co-authorship on a scientific journal article titled, “A primate-specific short GluN2A-NMDA receptor isoform is expressed in the human brain”. During this time, Steven was also asked to perform a series of electrophysiological recordings for a third year PhD student, Connor Maltby, which lead to co-authorship on another scientific journal article titled, “ A 5′ UTR GGN repeat controls localisation and translation of a potassium leak channel mRNA through G-quadruplex formation”.

Steven took a year break and undertook a role as a Teaching Assistant at John Madejski Academy followed by a role as a Field Technician for the Environment Agency in Reading. Steven has now returned to the University of Southampton to undertake a PhD with Dr Mariana Vargas-Caballero to continue to analyse the functional significance of the primate-specific GluN2A-S NMDA receptor subunit. He intends to investigate whether GluN2A-S within an NMDA receptor is localised to the synapses of neurons despite lacking the binding motifs of PSD95 which normally lead to clustering and stabilsation of NMDARs at the synapse. A better understanding of how GluN2A-S functions within an NMDA receptor will provide insight into synaptic communication at excitatory glutamatergic neurons. These neurons, found in brain regions such as the hippocampus, and these receptors play key roles in learning and memory.

Outside of the lab he enjoys cycling, weightlifting, and spending time with his family and friends.

Matthew Irwin  (Industry co-funded Studentship)Matt standing in lab

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Bioscience for renewable resources and clean growth

Project Title and supervisors: Microbial biotechnology approaches to optimize chemical oxygen demand and enhance nitrogen and phosphorus removal in wastewater treatment supervised by , Dr Yongqiang Liu (University of Southampton), Prof Jeremy Webb (University of Southampton) and Juhani Kostiainen (Plantworks System Limited).

Matt originally completed his undergraduate degree in Environmental sciences (BSc), during the course of which he developed an interest microbiology and the use of specific microbes for the sustainable treatment of water and energy generation. Matt has also completed summer internships at the Environment agency and Hydrolize ltd (a natural swimming pool company). The experience he gained during these internships led to his undergraduate project “The use of microbial biofilters for the treatment of river drinking water”, with the aim of investigating the feasibility of a novel water treatment system with limited power and no chemical requirements.

Following this, he completed an MRes in Advanced Biological Sciences at the University of Southampton under Professor Jeremy Webb. The main focus of his research project was investigating “The effect of water hardness on the structure and composition of biofilms in Aerobic granular sludge (AGS) reactors”.

This work led to the undertaking of this PhD project which aims to further explore the role of microbial biofilms within wastewater treatment systems and how these could be influenced to improve sustainable water treatment. Particularly Matt is interested in the potential of using newly developed community editing technologies to tailor the composition of water treatment biofilms to enhance the removal of Phosophorus and Nitrogen.

 

Liam Jones (Industry Co-funded Studentship)Picture of LIam

Year of study: Year 2

BBSRC Theme: Bioscience for renewable resources and clean growth

Project Title and supervisors: Microbiologically-influenced corrosion (MIC): Development of a model system to investigate the role of biofilm communities within MIC and their control using industrial biocides. Supervised by Professor Jeremy S Webb (National Biofilms Innovation Centre (NBIC), Biological Sciences, University of Southampton), Dr Maria Salta (School of Biological Sciences, University of Portsmouth), Dr Torben Lund Skovhus (Docent, VIA University College, Denmark), Dr Julian Wharton (Mechanical Engineering, University of Southampton)

Mr Liam Jones is a postgraduate research student in Biological Sciences at the University of Southampton and is a part of the South Coast Biosciences Doctoral Training Programme (SoCoBio DTP). Liam has studied Biochemistry at undergraduate and Masters level at the University of Waikato, NZ and University of Manchester, UK respectively. Liam worked as a technical assistant at Qiagen and a scientist at Medtrade Products Ltd before returning to academia. At Medtrade Liam was particularly interest in the research and development of new technologies in advanced wound care to help manage biofilms.

Liam is striving to become a specialist in the area of biofilm research. His PhD focusses on the development of a model system to investigate the role of biofilm communities within microbiologically-influenced corrosion (MIC) and their control using industrial biocides.

During his Masters project he participated in research studying a novel gene, DAP3, thought to be associated with Perrault Syndrome. Additionally, he researched the thioredoxin system and the effects on ER homeostasis.

In his free time, Liam’s hobbies include bouldering, yoga, calisthenics, PC gaming and anime to name a few.

Amy LovegroveAmy in laboratory

Year of study: Year 2

BBSRC Theme: Bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food

1st Rotation Project & Final PhD project: Sustainable food security through aquaculture: Establishment of algal technology for optimal aquaculture growth and health. Supervised by, Prof Chris Hauton and Prof Tom Bibby (University of Southampton),and Prof Colin Robinson(University of Kent).

2nd Rotation Project: Genetic basis of interspecies oviposition deterrents impacting the horticultural pest, Drosophila suzukii. Supervised by Herman Wijnen, (School of Biological Sciences, University of Southampton),  Dr Bethan Shaw (NIAB EMR) and Dr Michelle Fountain (NIAB EMR).

My interest in conservation genetics and sustainability stems from a love of nature, and so I pursued terrestrial, marine, and freshwater ecosystem biology throughout my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. My BSc dissertation investigated hybridisation between two Honduran iguana species. My MRes dissertation focused on identifying how Hampshire chalk stream water quality can be more effectively managed.

I chose the SoCoBio DTP for its rotation projects. It was incredibly insightful and exciting to be able to learn molecular ecology in two different labs under two great teams. It provided me with the opportunity to reflect on what I wanted to achieve during my Ph.D. and where my career ambitions lie. It became very apparent during these months that my love of marine biology is unparalleled, and that I want to work in aquaculture research.

My first rotation, and final Ph.D. project, is researching how to engineer algae species to act as vaccines for aquacultural diseases (e.g., OsHV-1 oyster herpes virus). I have started with a feeding experiment to see which common algae species Pacific Oysters (Crassostrea grigas) will consume, and whether diet elicits any immunological and metabolic genetic responses. I look forward to one day helping make aquacultural practices more sustainable!

Emily Lucas

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme:

1st Rotation Project: Elucidating how epithelial cell polarity maintenance safeguards genome stability during cell division supervised by Dr Salah Elias (University of Southampton) and Dr Kok-Lung Chan (University of Sussex)

Henry Nvenankeng (Industry co-funded Studentship)Henry sitting in lab

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food

Project Title and supervisors: Eat-2-ing away: acetylcholine receptor binding subunits lacking vicinal cysteines, a new pharmacophore for mitigation of plant parasitic infection supervised by Prof Vincent O’connor (University of Southampton), Professor Lindy Holden-Dye(University of Southampton), and Philippa Harlow & Marcus Guest, Syngenta Limited.

Henry graduated from the University of Ghent, Belgium, with a Master of Science degree (Hons) in Agro and Environmental Nematology in 2020. Before moving to study abroad, he studied at the University of Buea, Cameroon, where he obtained a Bachelor and a Master’s degree in Crop Protection. He has always had keen interests in sustainable plant pest and disease control strategies. For his master’s research, in 2020 he spent 7 months at the University of Bonn, Germany, where he investigated the mechanisms underlying the effect of a bacterial secondary metabolite (Rhamnolipid) on plant parasitic nematodes (PPNs).

Nematodes that parasitize on crops have been reported to cause severe quantitative and qualitative yield losses. For his Ph.D research, Henry seeks to understand the role of the receptors that control the pumping of the feeding apparatus (pharynx) of nematodes with a keen attention on Eat-2 (an acetylcholine receptor binding subunits lacking vicinal cysteines). Information and knowledge gathered from his findings could serve in the development of a new pharmacophore for the mitigation of PPNs.

In his private time, Henry really enjoys listening to music, watching documentaries, cycling and working out in the gym.

Klaudia PiotrowskapPicture of Klaudia

Year of study: Year 2

BBSRC Theme: Bioscience for an integrated understanding of health

1st Rotation Project: Exploiting rare human disease genomics to discover novel developmental control genes. Supervised by Professor Matt Guille (School of Biological Sciences University of Portsmouth), Professor Sarah Ennis (Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton), Dr Colin Sharpe (School of Biological Sciences, University of Portsmouth).

2nd Rotation Project & Final PhD project: Understanding the epigenetic regulation of fibroblast ageing. Supervised by Prof Gareth Thomas (University of Southampton) and Dr Tim Fenton (University of Kent).

Klaudia graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a BSc (Hons) Biochemistry (2015-2018) and MRes Science (Biochemistry) in 2019. Throughout her time as an undergraduate she has developed an interest in genetics, specifically gene expression, and where possible she has selected units related to this field. During her MRes she worked on non-canonical DNA structures including A-form DNA and i-motifs which are increasingly known to be involved in transcriptional regulation. After completing her master’s degree, she worked as a research assistant at the European Xenopus Resource Centre where she supported multiple internal and external research projects.

Novel bioinformatic approaches combined with high-throughput sequencing has led to identification of rare genetic variants in the human genome. In theory, genes that are crucial for the function of an organism will be depleted of such variants, whereas non-essential genes will tolerate variant accumulation in natural ‘healthy’ populations. In recent years, gene editing tools have allowed scientists to disrupt gene function in model organisms and in return provide information about the phenotypic changes. Klaudia intends to implement this approach in her project which aims to discover novel developmental control gene using Xenopus as a model organism. This knowledge about these novel genes will then be integrated into the gene regulatory networks and improve understanding of health and disease.

During Klaudia’s PhD journey she is hoping to develop the necessary transferrable skills and knowledge to make progress as a researcher. She believes that the structure of the SoCoBio programme including the taught courses and developmental training will provide her with a great opportunity to learn a variety of in silico, in vitro and in vivo techniques; by completing two rotation-projects and an industrial placement.

Sophie PowellSophie head and shoulder photo

Year of Study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Bioscience for an integrated understanding of health

1st Rotation Project: Investigating the role of PURA in neurodevelopment using CRISPR/Cas9 saturation gene editing supervised by Prof Diana Baralle (University of Southampton), Prof Matt Guille (University of Portsmouth) and Dr Gabrielle Wheway (University of Southampton).

Sophie graduated from the University of Bath with a BSc (Hons) in Biochemistry with Professional Placement (2015-2019). She undertook her placement year at Cardiff University under the supervison of Dr Emyr Lloyd-Evans, where she gained an interest in neurological disorders through the characterisation of a mouse glial cell model of Niemann-Pick C disease, a rare childhood neurodegenerative disease. Sophie was keen to continue the momentum of her placement through her final year project, through which she expanded on her cell culture knowledge to successfully maintain and manipulate mouse embryonic stem cells. This involved undertaking a stable transfection to enable the inducible RNAi knockdown of ANG, a key protein implicated in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, creating a cell line that could be differentiated to study the effect of reduced ANG experession in motor neurons and multiple other cell types of interest.

Sophie subsequently completed her Master of Research (MRes) in Stem Cell Neurobiology at Cardiff University (2019-2021) under the supervison of Prof. Lesley Jones, which involved the generation and characterisation of FAN1-variant Huntington’s disease patient iPSCs and iPS-neurons. Through this project Sophie undertook HDR (homology-directed repair) CRISPR gene editing in order to produce an edited patient iPSC line with single nucleotide polymorphism in the DNA-binding domain of the DNA repair enzyme FAN1. She then used these FAN1-variant HD cell lines to test the hypothesis that deficient versions of FAN1 could be hastening the onset of motor symptoms by permitting expansion of the Huntingtin CAG repeat over time in specific cell groups of the HD brain. Sophie was pleased to be awarded the 2019 Cohort MRes Prize for Best Research Project for this work, and for the opportunity to publish her first paper, entitled ‘What is the pathogenic CAG expansion length in Huntington’s disease?’ (doi: 10.3233/JHD-200445) for the Journal of Huntington’s Disease.

Sophie’s first rotation project, ‘Investigating the role of PURA in neurodevelopment using CRISPR/Cas9 saturation gene editing’ felt like a natural continuation of her research – building on her extensive cell culture experience and CRISPR knowledge to investigate PURA, a gene involved in neuronal proliferation, dendrite maturation and localised mRNA translation in neurons during neuronal development. De novo mutations in PURA are responsible for a severe neurodevelopmental condition, PURA syndrome, and PURA may play a role in both ALS and expanded repeat disorders. However, the changes in PURA function that mediate disease remain unclear. The aim of this project is to provide further insight into PURA dysfunction in disease and identify therapeutic avenues for treatment of these neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders. This will be achieved by using CRISPR/Cas9 to systematically assay the effect of every possible amino acid substitution of PURA in cell lines, followed by further characterisation in frogs.

Through this project, Sophie is eager expand upon her pre-existing experience by working with in vitro and in vivo models to undertake exciting research with real-world benefits to the treatment of neurological disease.

Fardina RahimiPhoto of Fardina

Year of study: Year 2

BBSRC Theme: Bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food

1st Rotation Project & Final PhD project: Genetic basis of interspecies oviposition deterrents impacting the horticultural pest, Drosophila suzukii. Supervised by Associate Professor Herman Wijnen (School of Biological Sciences, University of Southampton), Dr Bethan Shaw (NIAB-EMR), and Dr Michelle Fountain (NIAB-EMR).

2nd Rotation Project: Interrogating the b-catenin interactome for novel modulators of Wnt signaling. Supervised by Professor Rohan Lewis (Professor in Placental and Integrated Physiology Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton), Professor Sarah Newbury (Professor in RNA Biology and Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange, University of Sussex), Professor Ying Cheong (Professor of Reproductive Medicine Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton and Medical Director of Complete Fertility Southampton).

I am curious about the interactions between different organisms and their effect on themselves, the world around us as well as human life. Food security is a priority for any nation, given the current concerns over climate change, land use and the decline in the agricultural labour force. It is thus important to ramp up food production efforts in an innovative manner in the face of a projected rise in population and limited availability of arable land. I look forward to the opportunities to explore about different species and apply my finding from the lab to global levels.

My current research focuses on the interaction between Drosophila Suzukii and Drosophila Melanogaster species, in the aim of controlling the pest species and implementing a safe and effective way to stop it’s billion-dollar damage on the world.

Anne RomeroAnne Romero in the ECR at the University of Southampton surrounded by plants

Year of study: Year 2

BBSRC Theme: Bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food

1st Rotation Project & Final PhD project: Genomic constrains on domestication: Why are so few species domesticated? Supervised by Mark Chapman (University of Southampton), Adam Eyre-Walker (University of Sussex).

2nd Rotation Project: What are rhizosphere microbial characteristics associated with healthy plants? Supervised by Prof Xiangming Xu (NIAB EMR) and Dr Marc G Dumont (School of Biological Sciences, University of Southampton).

Anne’s main motivation throughout academia has been addressing food security challenges through crop and management improvements. She completed her BSc Biology degree at the University of Southampton and then went on to work as a technicians at various organisations, including Covance Food Solutions and Syngenta. Following this, she completed her MSc by Research in Agriculture, Ecology and the Environment at the University of Reading. This led her to return to the University of Southampton as a research technician working on a NERC/BBSRC project investigating plasticity and domestication in Brassicas. As a research technician, she gained insight into crop genetic variation for adaptation to environmental stresses.

Outside of academia, Anne is both a nature lover (travelling, camping, hiking) and a homebody (reading, cross-stitching, baking).

Anne’s PhD project will explore the mechanisms that could have contributed to the evolutionary advantage of tomato crop progenitor in early cultivation compared to wild relatives focusing on plasticity, rate of mutation and trait-linkage. Another focus of this research is on TE contribution to the diversification of the tomato clade, that is vital in exploiting TE insertions near or within genes, and their influence on physiological and morphological variation, which can be utilised for crop improvement.

Daniela Rothschild Rodriguezhead and shoulder photo of Daniela

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the rules of life

1st Rotation Project: Gut bacteria and the brain: the surprising impact of bacteriophages supervised by Dr Franklin Nobrega (University of Southampton), Jessica Teeling (University of Southampton) and Jerome Swinny (University of Portsmouth)

Daniela Rothschild-Rodriguez completed her Bachelor studies at the University of Kent in Biomedical Sciences. During her BSc, she underwent a placement year working as a research assistant at the Department for Health at the University of Bath, conducting clinical research in Cancer and Exercise Immunology. Her experiences motivated her to continue her studies at PhD level, and she is now a postgraduate researcher at the University of Southampton in Microbiology.

The gut microbiome influences many physiological and metabolic functions. It has been shown to play a role in various diseases, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, and neurodegenerative disorders. Amongst the gut microbiota are bacteriophages (phages for short), specific viruses of bacteria. These outnumber the bacteria in our gut but are largely understudied. Daniela’s project focuses on phage-bacteria-host interactions in this complex environment and how these bacterial predators influence gut dysbiosis.

Molly Rutt

DTP Wellbeing Champion

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the rules of life

1st Rotation Project: The role of endometrial gland derived extracellular vesicles in mediating an optimal uterine environment supervised by Dr Jane Cleal (University of Southampton),
Prof Rohan Lewis (University of Southampton), Professor Sarah Newbury (University of Sussex), and Professor Ying Cheong: Complete Fertility

Molly graduated with a first-class degree in Biochemistry from the University of Bath in 2021, undertaking a final year project studying the genetic mechanisms linking fertility treatment with subsequent placental complications during pregnancy.

Her interest is in reproduction and developmental biology, with both of her rotation projects focusing on potential aspects of infertility. This rotational aspect of the SoCoBio provides the opportunity to focus on reproductive health from two different angles – both male and female factor fertility. Molly hopes to utilise this breadth of insight to progress to a career in embryology and IVF treatment, utilising her multidisciplinary research background.

 

Annabelle Somers (Industry co-funded Studentship)Annabelle shoulder and head photo

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food

Project Title and supervisors: Achieving micronutrient security in a post pandemic and post EU-exit world – “Parsnips as a superfood” supervised by Prof Guy Poppy (University of Southampton), Dr Jenny Baverstock (University of Southampton), Dr Eleftheria Stavridou (NIAB EMR), Prof Philip Calder (University of Southampton) AND Dr Frances Gawthrop Tozer Seeds.

Annabelle is passionate about Sustainable Food Security, and finding answers to the question of how to provide sufficient, nutritious food for 10 billion people by 2050, without destroying the ecosystems that allow us to prosper in the first place. Having completed a BA in Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge, with a specialism in Plant Sciences, Annabelle’s background is in crop biology and agricultural sustainability, however she is excited to explore more of the link between nutrition and health through her PhD, particularly in the context of the current pandemic.

Jack Stubbs (Industry co-funded Studentship)Jack Stubbs head and shoulder photo

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the rules of life

Project Title and supervisors: Developing novel approaches for time resolved structural biology supervised by Dr Ivo Tews (University of Southampton), Dr S. Mark Roe University of Sussex), Dr Jonathan West (University of Southampton), Drs Agata Butryn & Pierre Aller, Diamond Light Source Diamond Light Source (match funder),Patrick Shaw Stewart, Douglas Instruments Ltd (CASE SME).

Jack recently graduated with an MSci in Biochemistry with a Year Abroad from the University of East Anglia. His MSci research project focused on investigating the allosteric regulation of SH2-domain containing inositol phosphate phosphatase 2 (SHIP2) using a combination of real-time enzymology and molecular dynamics simulations. During the summer before starting his PhD, Jack worked as a Research Assistant at the John Innes Centre (JIC) working on resolving the structures of two plant receptor-effector complexes involved in the the mechanism of action of blast disease in rice crops.

He is fascinated by the field of structural biology, which comes inherently from being a visual learner throughout his undergraduate studies. During the PhD, Jack hopes to solve multiple protein structures, which will provide further functional insights. This knowledge will contribute to an integrated understanding of human health and disease, a key player in treatment development and drug discovery.

The project is focused on optimising the crystallisation of three important protein targets to obtain homogenous microcrystals, which can be utilised at the beamline as part of upcoming technologies including serial synchrotron crystallography (SSX) and serial femtosecond crystallography (SFX) to generate dynamic molecular movies in real-time. The three protein targets are Pdx1, a drug target for malaria or tuberculosis, Hsp90, a chaperone implicated in maintaining many cancers and Isopenicillin-N-synthase (IPNS), required for conversion of a natural tripeptide substrate into isopenicillin-N, a b-lactam antibiotic. The hope is that along with the help of industry partners, technologies developed during the PhD will be utilised by other beamline users in the field, whilst also becoming mainstream at both synchrotons and XFELs.

Lucy Sutton (Industry co-funded Studentship)

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food

Project Title and supervisors: Control of Listeria monocytogenes in the fresh produce supply chain (CASE project). Supervised by Professor Bill Keevil (University of Southampton), Dr Callum Highmore (University of Southampton), Helen Brierley (Vitacress Salads Ltd), and Simon Budge (Vitacress Salads Ltd).

Jamie Thomas (Industry co-funded Studentship)Head and shoulder photo of Jamie outdoors

DTP Wellbeing Champion

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Biosciences for integrated understanding of health

Project Title and supervisors: Role of serotoninergic receptors on cell-specific modulation of immune function supervised by Diego Gomez-Nicola (University of Southampton) and Gary Gillmore, Compass Pathways

In 2019, Jamie graduated from the University of Kent, having completed a BSc in Biomedical Science. Following this, Jamie remained at the University of Kent and completed an MSc in Cell Biology, under the supervision of Dr Campbell Gourlay, in which he investigated how mitochondrial dysfunction influenced lipid droplet regulation – using Saccharomyces cerevisiae as a model organism. Although considerably different from his MSc project, Jamie’s interest in immunology, cell signalling and neuroscience is well suited to his PhD project, which is centered around characterising the immunomodulatory effects of serotonin receptor subtypes (7 Families, 15 Mammalian Subtypes).

Interest in this field has emerged following the identification of serotonin receptors on almost all immune cells, indicating a key role for these receptors in the regulation of the immune response. Furthermore, the intricate interactions that exist between the nervous system and immune system – which forms the neuroimmune axis – have become a major point of interest in trying to understand the physiology of both of these systems. In combining the investigation of the role of serotonin receptor subtypes in cell-specific modulation of immune function, alongside considering the wider perspective of the neuro-immune axis, the findings of this project may shed light on the molecular and cellular mechanisms that underpin various neuro-degenerative and psychiatric disorders – which are thought to be linked to inflammation. This project benefits from the co-supervision by the industrial partner COMPASS Pathways (https://compasspathways.com/), who are interested in accelerating patients access to evidence-based innovations intended to treat mental health disorders.

The PhD project will aim to:
1) Study the expression of serotonin receptors in a variety of immune cells.
2) Characterise the immunomodulatory effect mediated by the serotonin receptors.
3) Identify if the serotonin receptors immunomodulatory effects can by manipulated using known agonists and antagonists.

In his free time, Jamie enjoys keeping fit by going on regular runs in his local area, alongside playing rugby for his local club. When not exercising and/or working, Jamie enjoys a cheeky bit of cooking and (obsessively) binging Netflix.

University of Sussex

Susmita Aown

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food

1st Rotation Project: Host plant relationships of insect potential vectors of Xylella fastidiosa supervised by Dr Alan Stewart (University of Sussex) and Michelle Fountain (NIAB EMR)

Susmita studied her undergraduate degree at the University of Northampton, and her Masters at Anglia Ruskin University. Her passion is in grassland ecosystems and insects. Susmita’s interest in grasslands, especially calcareous grasslands, developed while she was working as a Volunteer Officer at the Wildlife Trust BCN in at Lings Office in Northampton during the summer of 2018. She then worked on an undergraduate project that investigated plant species richness and dynamics of plant composition in abandoned quarries in Northamptonshire using historical plant data from Northamptonshire Natural History Society.

After graduating with a BSc. in Biology, she worked as a Field Research Assistant at the University of Northampton, where she learned more about different insect pollinators, and their interactions with plants. Susmita then went on to improve her knowledge and research skills in plant-pollinator interactions through her Masters project with Dr Thomas Ings at Anglia Ruskin. She investigated which plant traits and bee traits affect the plants that bees visit for collecting nectar and pollen in UK farmlands.

After finishing her MSc. in 2020, she worked as a Research Assistant at the Conservation Evidence, helping a PhD student at University of Cambridge to gather and wrangle GIS data. Susmita spent the summer of 2021 as a Volunteer Reseacher at the Butterfly Conservation, mainly doing transect walk at the Salcey Forest in Northampton. She recorded butterflies in Salcey Forest for the UK Butterfly Monitoring System.

Now Susmita is starting her journey as a PhD student at the University of Sussex. Her first rotation project is with Dr Alan Stewart and Dr Michelle Fountain. The aim of the project is to study the ecology, biology, and behaviour of Philaenus spumarius, the main insect vector of Xyllela fastidiosa. Xyllela fastidiosa is a notorious plant-pathogen that causes leaf-scorch, and plant dieback. It is widespread in America, and well known for causing Pierce’s Disease. In 2013 it was first detected in Apulia, Italy, where it caused a massive outbreak in olive groves. Xyllela fastidiosa is an economically important plant-pathogen, and is insect transmitted. The diseases caused by Xyllela do not have any cure, and hence, stopping the spread of bacteria is the primary way to prevent crop damage. The bacteria has not yet been detected in Great Britain, but there is high possibility that Xyllela fastidiosa might come to Britain through imported plant materials. Therefore, learning about the insect vector, and the susceptible crops are critical to prevent Xyllela spread in the UK, as well as to develop Integrated Pest Management techniques.

Outside of academia , Susmita is interested in equality and easy access to science, and science communication. She is a Co-organiser of the Bio-Diverse Festival 2021, and is a permanent member of the Bio-Diverse Project team. She also likes to knit for friends and family, and annoy the family cat, Rosie, whenever she wants a break from research!

Joanna Baker (Industry co-funded Studentship)Head and shoulder photo of Jo

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the Rules of Life

Project Title and supervisors: Dynamic modelling of synthetically lethal pathways to enable the development of cancer therapeutics supervised by Dr Frances Pearl (University of Sussex), Dr John George, Oppilotech Ltd, Dr Helfrid Hochegger, DRaKE

Jo graduated from the University of Sussex with a First Class with Honours in Biomedical Science and stayed on to study an MSc in Cancer Cell Biology where she achieved a Distinction. It was during her undergraduate degree that she developed an interest in bioinformatics and cancer research and she was able to explore this during her MSc through her dissertation project where she analysed computational data to predict personalised medicine regimes for oesophageal cancer patients. Jo hopes to build on her MSc research through her SoCoBio DTP PhD by undertaking a project to ‘Dynamically model synthetic lethal pathways for the development of cancer therapeutics’. Jo’s PhD aim is to advance her programming skills and use them to help the field of cancer research. Outside of studying Jo enjoys playing boardgames, baking and decorating cakes and is also a keen gardener.

 

Alice ClarkHead and shoulders photo of Alice

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme:

1st Rotation Project: Coastal rewilding and food security: understanding restoration pathways using ecoacoustics and environmental DNA (eDNA) (CASE project) supervised by Dr Mika Peck (University of Sussex), Dr Ian Hendy (University of Portsmouth), Dr Reuben Shipway (University of Portsmouth), Dr Katie Critchlow CASE Partner: Naturemetrics.

Alice has a strong interest in biodiversity and conservation which is what led her to pursue a bachelor’s degree in zoology at Trinity College Dublin, which she graduated from in 2018. She then continued her studies at the University of Sussex where she did an MRes in Evolutionary biology. In 2021 she did an internship at the European Commission in the Directorate General of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE) in the unit dealing with scientific advice and data collection. Alice’s previous research has mostly focussed on bird genetics but she is now moving on to marine biology.

Alice’s first rotation is in coastal rewilding. The aim of this project is to monitor the health of the Sussex seabed following the new trawler ban (March 2021) using environmental DNA (eDNA) and ecoacoustics. This is an opportunity to understand how marine systems might recover following the removal of trawling pressure. The hope is that the kelp forests will recover and that healthy populations of priority threatened UK species, such as herring, mackerel and common sole will be back. Alice’s main PhD aims are to master statistics and further her lab skills.

In her spare time Alice enjoys seeing her friends, going for swims in the sea, baking, yoga and watching Netflix.

 

Larisa Gheorghiu

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the Rules of Life

1st Rotation Project: Brain mechanisms of high-strength alcohol seeking supervised by Dr Eisuke Koya(University of Sussex), Hans Crombag (University of Sussex), Jerome Swinny (University of Portsmouth).

After completing her Baccalaureate, Larisa graduated from the University of Leicester with a BSc (Hons) in Psychology.

During her year abroad at the University of Groningen she focused on neurobiology and attended a Summer School in Translational Neuroscience, which motivated her to pursue a research career within the field of Neuroscience.

Following her undergraduate lab work investigating the neuropharmacology of dopaminergic pathways and schizophrenia, she completed an MSc Neuroscience course from the University of Sussex. Her Master’s project involved conducting a meta-analysis on pharmacological addiction treatments which implied learning complex statistical and coding techniques, allowing her to gain experience in novel research methods. Curious about life outside academia, she then joined a technology start-up and conducted VR research for a year, before deciding to jump back on the academic track.

The first project is focusing on understanding the mechanisms that control reactivity to high-strength alcohol cues. Through combining immunohistochemical, fibre photometry and optogenetic techniques she aims to characterise the molecular and electrophysiological properties of these mechanisms. By being part of the SoCoBio programme, she hopes to advance her skills in data science and in vivo techniques, as well as gain work experience in the bioscience industry.

Outside of research, Larisa enjoys attending film festivals, gaming, running and reading ridiculously long fantasy books.

Hope Haimepicture of Hope

DTP Wellbeing Champion

Year of study: Year 2

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the rules of life

1st Rotation Project: Regulating RNA stability to increase protein production of cells under stress conditions, supervised by Professor Sarah Newbury (Professor of RNA Biology, BSMS, University of Sussex) and Professor Mark Smales (Professor of Industrial Biotechnology, School of Biosciences, University of Kent).

2nd Rotation Project: The influence of oxidative stress on protein structure and assembly in Alzheimer’s and other neurodegernative diseases. Supervised by Prof Louise Serpell (University of Sussex) and Dr Wei-Feng Xue (University of Kent).

Hope graduated from the University of Sussex in 2019 with a degree in MSci Biochemistry. She developed a keen interest for RNA and molecular biology and gene regulation while working with the Newbury Lab, BSMS, to investigate the role of the exoribonuclease, XRN1, in osteosarcoma disease progression. Following university, Hope undertook an MRC funded Research Technician post with the Foster Lab, IMSR, University of Birmingham. Here she focused on targeting 17β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type-7 (HSD17B7) as a novel therapeutic target for the treatment of colorectal cancer. Hope is currently in her first year of a SoCoBio DTP PhD completing her project on ‘Regulating RNA stability to increase the protein production of cells under starvation conditions’ with the Newbury Lab and Smales Lab. Previous work has shown human and Drosophila cells with a depletion of the exoribonuclease, DIS3L2, and grown in starvation conditions to result in an increase in protein production and cellular proliferation. Hope will employ a variety of molecular and industrial biotechnology techniques to develop an understanding of the mechanisms used by DIS3L2 to regulate RNA stability during the cellular stress response, as well as manipulating growth conditions to optimise protein translation of bioactive proteins within nutrient-deprived cells. CRISPR will be crucial in generating novel cell lines to manipulate DIS3L2 expression. As well, polysome profiling and transcriptomic analyses will be useful in analysing relevant cellular mechanisms to improve translation efficiency of medically important proteins within the novel cell lines. Findings would be of great economic advantage and will shed light on the importance of RNA stability in the cellular response to stress, with discoveries applicable to human disease and the development of clinical therapies. Outside of the lab, Hope enjoys getting involved with public engagement activities and rock climbing.

Letitia McMullanpicture of Letitia

Year of study: Year 2

BBSRC Theme: Bioscience for an integrated understanding of health

1st Rotation Project & Final PhD project: How does a mild restriction in blood supply constrain hippocampal function? Supervised by Catherine Hall (primary supervisor) and Mariana Vargas-Caballero (secondary supervisor).

2nd Rotation Project: The role of the nucleus accumbens in stimulus-controlled appetite and satiety. Supervised by Dr Eisuke Koya (University of Sussex), Dr Hans Crombag (University of Sussex), and Dr Jerome Swinny (University of Portsmouth).

Letitia graduated from her undergraduate degree in Neuroscience at the University of Nottingham in 2020. Throughout her degree she was inspired to pursue a career in neuroscientific research so that she could contribute to the rapid advances in understanding brain physiology and pathology that is being seen today. Her project serves to uncover how a chronic, mild restriction in blood flow to the hippocampus, which has been widely observed in both Alzheimer’s disease patients and animal models of the disease, constrains function of hippocampal neurons and circuits. Through this PhD, she aims to develop a wide variety of highly versatile in vivo and in vitro laboratory techniques, data analysis, computational modelling and scientific writing and communication skills, and also to establish contacts with scientists from diverse backgrounds. Letitia hopes that through achieving these aims, she will be well set up for a successful future career in scientific research. In her free time, she enjoys playing table tennis, tennis and squash, running, and going to the gym.

Stefan Penmanpicture of Stefan

Year of study: Year 2

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the rules of life

1st Rotation Project & Final PhD project: The influence of oxidative stress on protein structure and assembly in Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. Supervised by Prof. Louise Serpell (University of Sussex) and Dr Wei-Feng Xue (University of Kent).

2nd Rotation Project: Regulating RNA stability to increase protein production of cells under stress conditions (CASE project). Supervised by Prof Sarah Newbury, (University of Sussex) and Prof Mark Smales (University of Kent).

Stefan has a International Baccalaureate (Varndean College; 2014-2016) and a first class honors award in Biomedical Science from the University of Sussex (2016-2020).  In addition Stefan has work experience volunteering at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton (2015-2016) and as a pathology lab assistant at Nuffield Health, Brighton (2019). The purpose of Stefan’s project is to elucidate why/how ApoE4 increases risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease in the context of oxidative stress.  Stefan’s area of study interest is structural biology and the techniques used to elucidate protein structure (e.g. X-Ray Crystallography, Cryo-EM, etc.), molecular biology, molecular medicine and computational biology. When not in the lab or studying he enjoys tabletop role-playing games (e.g. Dungeons & Dragons), puzzle solving (particularly sudoku puzzles), watching movies and keeping up to date with current news in medical research.  Stefan’s PhD personal goals for his DTP are to accumulate a wide range of transferrable skills that he can take with him into a future career in research, as well as gaining insight into other areas of study that he has previously not had the chance to interact with.

Abigail Talbotpicture of Abigail

Year of study: Year 2

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the Rules of Life

1st Rotation Project: From atomic to in vivo: a characterization of ILF3 nucleic-acids interactions in the context of eukaryotic transcription regulation. Supervised by Dr Erika Mancini, Dr Garry Scarlett, Dr Matthew Guille.

2nd Rotation Project: The roles of evolutionarily conserved microRNAs in feeding and nutrition- from flies to mammals. Supervised by Prof Claudio R. Alonso (University of Sussex) and Dr Jaswinder K. Sethi (University of Southampton).

Abigail graduated from Aberystwyth University in 2019 with a BSc in Genetics and completed her MSc in Genetic Manipulation and Molecular Cell Biology in 2020 at the University of Sussex. Her first rotation project focuses on the double stranded RNA binding protein, ILF3 in the frog Xenopus laevis, and its interactions with the promoter gene gata2. Abigail is interested in eukaryotic transcription regulation as well as behavioural neurogenetics. Outside of the lab she is an avid movie goer and enjoy spending time on Brighton beach. Abigail’s aims for her PhD are to gain a wider scope of lab skills and to attain deeper knowledge of an important biological function.

 

 

Kaya Taylor (Industry co-funded Studentship)Kaya at her graduation

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Bioscience for renewable resources and clean growth

Project Title and supervisors: Exploiting Mycobacterium tuberculosis biofilm-derived phenotypes for transformative novel drug discovery supervised by Dr Simon Waddell (University of Sussex), Prof Jeremy S. Webb (University of Southampton) and Dr Joanna Bacon, Principal Scientist, TB Discovery Group, National Infection Service, Public Health England, Porton Down.

Kaya completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Portsmouth studying marine biology. After a work placement in Spain in her second year Kaya’s focus shifted to marine microbiology, specifically looking at combating antibiotic resistance in marine environments using naturally occurring probiotic bacteria. This led to her masters in applied aquatic biology focussing on using bioinformatics to analyse the genomes of symbiotic wood-digesting bacteria that live on the gills of shipworms, as a potential application to optimising biofuel production.

Throughout her masters Kaya remained interested in bacterial diseases and drug discovery. Now Kaya is working with Mycobacterium turberculosis, a disease causing pathogen that affects millions of people worldwide, with emerging antibiotic resistant strains and limited access to drug regimens. Her project will focus on the heterogeneity of bacteria produced within microbial biofilms as a route for novel drug discovery in the fight against turburculosis.

Despite her career change, Kaya maintains a keen interest in marine biology, regularly diving and exploring coral reefs around the world.

James WoodwardJames head and shoulder profile photo

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme:

1st Rotation Project: Growing complimentary crops and nutritionally rewarding cultivars to sustain insect pollinators and crop pollination on farms supervised by Prof Dave Goulson (University of Sussex) and Dr Michelle Fountain (NIAB EMR).

James is interested in ecosystem services, environmental conservation and plant science. He is excited to make a substantial contribution to sustainable food security and environmental conservation through collaborative research as an entomologist.

James studied biochemistry at University of Bath which included a professional placement in the Natural Capital and Plant Health Department at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. While working with Prof. Phil Stevenson and Dr Hauke Koch at Kew James discovered the value of non-crop plants for pollinator health and thus how they enhance ecosystem services for melliferous crops. Their project investigated the capacity of nectar to reduce the disease load of a prevalent gut parasite (Crithidia bombi) in bumblebees (Bombus spp.). To conclude their project he co-authored a paper, entitled “Flagellum removal by a nectar metabolite inhibits infectivity of a bumblebee parasite”, with his colleagues at Kew (Koch et al., 2019. Current Biology).

Following this James worked with Dr Michelle Fountain and Celine Silva in the Pest & Pathogen Ecology Department at NIAB EMR on a BBSRC funded Integrated Pest Management (IPM) project. Through collaborating with Natural Resources Institute, their research allowed farmers to lure Nesidiocoris tenuis, a controversial biocontrol agent, off tomato plants using our synthesised sex pheromone before it fed on the crop in commercial greenhouses.

James then worked with Mike Davies and Dr Eleftheria Stavridou in the Crop Science & Production Systems team at NIAB EMR to optimise resource use efficiency when conducting fertigation of horticultural crops including strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and aubergines.

James’s current SoCoBio DTP project aims to understand if, and why, pollinators prefer foraging on different cultivars of crops including strawberries, raspberries, apples and oil seed rape. He is studying the nutritional quality of nectar and pollen as well as planning to conduct visitation surveys to elucidate these preferences. This research could facilitate the design of complimentary cropping systems with combinations of cultivars which sustain healthy pollinator populations, and thus crop pollination, on farms for the entire UK growing season.

James also enjoys playing music, climbing, drawing, gardening and baking with friends.