Students and Projects

SoCoBio's first cohort of students started their first rotation projects and industry co-funded projects in October 2020. 

Find out about them and their projects by expanding the boxes.

2020/21 student cohort

University of Kent

Charlotte Bilsby

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Bioscience for renewable resources and clean growth

Project Title and supervisors: 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).

Victoria Cheungprofile photo of Victoria

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the rules of life

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

Vicky is a first 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.

Diabetes is one of the largest global public health concerns of our time with cases continually rising to 463 million people. This is almost half a billion people suffering from this life-threatening condition and indeed, it is among the top 10 causes of death globally. The aim of this project is to further characterise and understand the fundamental mechanism of these transporters in which knockdown studies protected mice models from diabetes and obesity, and in fly models doubled their lifespan. These membrane proteins transport key determinants of the energetic status of the cell, driving fatty acid synthesis and thus may serve as a potential pharmacological target for selective inhibitors to combat diabetes.

In her free time, Vicky like 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.

Isabella GarciaPhoto of Isabella

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the rules of life

Project Title and supervisors: 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).

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 1

BBSRC Theme: Bioscience for an integrated understanding of health

Project Title and supervisors: 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).

Kseniia Pidlisna (Industry co-funded Studentship)

Year of study: Year 1

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 1

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the rules of life

Project Title and supervisors: 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).

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.

Robert Ulrich (Industry co-funded Studentship)

Year of study: Year 1

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 1

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the rules of life

Project Title and supervisors: 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)

Chloe Uylprofile picture of Chloe

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Bioscience for renewable resources and clean growth

Project Title and supervisors: 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).

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 1

BBSRC Theme: Bioscience for Sustainable Agriculture and Food

Project Title and Supervisors: 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).

David graduated from the University of Southampton in 2020 with a BSc (hons) in Biology. His research interests include molecular and evolutionary plant biology, particularly in relation to 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 help ensure that everyone always has access to enough nutritious food, in a time where rapid climate changes and demographic shifts pose major threats to future food and nutrient security.

Prior to joining the DTP, David has worked on de novo genome assemblies and annotation for several underutilised plant species, and used a comparative genomics approach to identify genes which could be linked to local adaptations in legumes.

David’s current rotation project will investigate the impact of genetic variability and pre/postharvest environments on the nutritional quality of strawberries, in the context of addressing nutritional vulnerabilities in the UK’s current food system.

University of Portsmouth

Klaudia PiotrowskapPicture of Klaudia

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Bioscience for an integrated understanding of health

Project Title and supervisors: 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)

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.

University of Southampton

Fiyin Adenekan

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the Rules of Life

Project Title and Supervisors: 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).

Irene Bazaga Martinez

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the Rules of Life

Project Title and Supervisors: Unveiling the role of ApoE in microglial development and function. Supervised by Dr Diego Gomez-Nicola (School of Biological Sciences, University of Southampton)and Dr Sarah King (School of Psychology, University of Sussex).

Brandon Coke

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the Rules of Life

Project Title and Supervisors: 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).

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.

Johanna Fishprofile photo of Johanna

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the Rules of Life

Project Title and Supervisors: 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).

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 1
BBSRC Theme: Understanding the Rules of Life
Project Title and Supervisors: Microbes and the ageing brain: do host-microbe interactions accelerate age-related cognitive decline? Supervised by Professor Jessica Teeling and Dr Marina Ezcurra

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.

 

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

Year of study: First Year

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 Houghtonphoto of Steven in a laboratory

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the rules of life

Project Title and supervisors: 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).

Steven’s project aims to characterise a primate-specific non-canonical NMDA receptor subunit. A better understanding of this second isoform may inform future research on NMDARs and their role in health and disease.

During Steven’s Master’s he used whole-cell electrophysiology to investigate whether the primate-specific non-canonical NMDA receptor subunit, GluN2AS successfully expresses on the cell surface and functions as an NMDA receptor. This was performed in the human embryonic kidney (HEK293) cell heterologous expression system.

Currently during the early stages of his PhD Steven intends to investigate potential alternative splicing mechanisms responsible for this isoform being found in humans and non-human primates but not in rodents such as mice.

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

Year of study: Year 1

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 LovegrovePicture of Amy

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food

Project Title and supervisors: Sustainable food security through aquaculture: Establishment of algal technology for optimal aquaculture growth and health. Supervised by, Prof. Chris Hauton, Prof. Tom Bibby, Prof. Colin Robinson

Amy developed a deep interest in conservation genetics and sustainability throughout University and chose to complete her Undergraduate dissertation in genetic hybridisation. She compared genomes from two species of Honduran iguanas to see if they were producing offspring as they’ve been known to breed successfully. Even though no hybrid individuals were identified from her samples, through reading about how poorly they, and their habitats, are protected she became more interested in the policy and governance side of conservation and decided to pursue this further.

In September 2019 Amy joined the University of Southampton on the MRes Advanced Biological Sciences course where she delved into the world of environmental governance to give her a broader perspective of modern conservation. Amy’s dissertation focussed on identifying differences in the way that two Hampshire chalk rivers were being governed, and what impact this has on their water quality until our good friend COVID-19 forced us to stop less than halfway through the project.

Amy’s first rotation project is with Prof. Chris Hauton in the Marine Biology and Ecology research group. The initial stage of the project is assessing the growth and performance of bivalve molluscs reared on single and mixed species microalgal diets. The algae that is reared in a variety of environments will be used as a food source in comparative experiments to compare the effects on growth, metabolism, reproductive investment, and immune function in the three, main cultured bivalve species in Europe. This project aims to use genetically modified algae to target the oyster herpes (OsHV1) virus and interfere with its’ replication cycle. Amy chose this project because of the potential benefits is can provide; it has to not only make this area of aquaculture more sustainable (and therefore more secure) in the long-term, but also improves the quality of life for the bivalves.

Fardina RahimiPhoto of Fardina

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food

Project Title and supervisors: 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)

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 Romerostudent in lab

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food

Project Title and Supervisors: Genomic constrains on domestication: Why are so few species domesticated? Supervised by Mark Chapman (University of Southampton), Adam Eyre-Walker (University of Sussex)

Anne’s main motivation throughout academia has been addressing food security challenges through crop and management improvements. As a research technician, she has gained insight into crop genetic variation for adaptation to environmental stresses and now want to explore how to capture those genetic diversity for genomic selection to improve crops.

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

Anne completed her BSc Biology degree at the University of Southampton in 2015. She then went on to work at various companies (Covance Food Solutions & Syngenta) as a technician. In 2018, she completed a MSc by Research in Agriculture, Ecology and the Environment at the University of Reading. This led her to take up a role back at the University of Southampton as a research technician working on a NERC/BBSRC project investigating plasticity and domestication, using Brassicas.

Anne’s first lab rotation project is on investigating transposable elements (TE), specifically MITEs, and their contributions to Brassica diversity. Throughout her time at SoCoBio DTP, she aims to explore plant science in its different aspects through lab rotations. Anne hopes to gain more experience in genomics and bioinformatics which are significant tools in adaptive trait discovery for crop breeding, enabling me to have a research career in crop science.

Victoria Elizabeth Seeney (Industry Co-funded Studentship)photo of Victoria

Year of study: First Year

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, Dr Callum Highmore, Dr Helen Brierley and Dr Simon Budge

Having finished an Integrated Master of Biomedical Sciences with a First Class Honours at the University of Southampton, Victoria is now undertaking a studentship within the SoCoBio Doctoral Training Partnership. As her Master’s Dissertation was on the viable but nonculturable state of foodborne pathogens, she is continuing this vein of research within her postgraduate research project via a focus on Listeria monocytogenes in the fresh produce chain. L. monocytogenes is a foodborne pathogen that can cause a serious, debilitating gastrointestinal infection, causes miscarriage in pregnant women and has the highest mortality of the major foodborne pathogens. Due to the ability of this pathogen to form biofilms and enter the VBNC state on fresh produce, especially in foods that are not cooked before consumption, my projects purpose to produce detection methods for this pathogen for use in the fresh produce supply chain.

Victoria’s research interests include foodborne pathogens and associated disease, as involved in her studentship, and the human gastrointestinal microbiota, its interactions with overall health and wellbeing, and its dysfunction leading to disease. Aside from her studies, Victoria’s hobbies include Pilates, yoga, crafts (ranging from painting to soap making to sewing), playing Animal Crossing and cooking.

University of Sussex

Hope Haimepicture of Hope

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the rules of life

Rotation project & supervisors: 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)

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 1

BBSRC Theme: Bioscience for an integrated understanding of health

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

Letitia graduated in 2020 undergraduate in Neuroscience at the University of Nottingham. Throughout her degree she was inspired to pursue a career in neuroscientific research so that she could make my a contribution 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.

Stefan Penmanpicture of Stefan

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the rules of life

Rotation project & title: 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)

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 compare x-ray diffraction data from truncated Tau 297-391 (dGAE) fibers to Cryo-EM structures of Tau paired-helical filaments (PHFs) sampled from Alzheimer’s Disease brain tissue.  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.

Matthew SpriggsPicture of Matthew holding a certificate

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the rules of life

Rotation project & supervisor:  The Roles of Evolutionarily Conserved MicroRNAs in Feeding and Nutrition – from flies to mammals. Supervised by Professor Claudio Alonso (School of Life Sciences, University of Sussex) and Dr Jaswinder Sethi (School of Human Development and Health, University of Southampton)

Matthew has interests in Genetics, microRNA, Zoology, Molecular Ecology and Evolution.  Bioinformatic data explosion, generated as a consequence of ever-improving technological advances, is paving the way for an exciting future. However, The next few decades will not be straightforward: global societies must rise to meet ever-pressing challenges. Crucially, achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and supporting the international ramifications of climate change is a priority. I believe genetics has a part to play in this story. Aided by the directional remit of the BBSRC and SoCoBio, Matthew’s PhD plays a small part in this journey, to further the fundamental scientific understanding of life.  Before joining SoCoBio DTP Matthew completed a BSc/MSc in Zoology at Bangor university (2012 – 2016) then worked as a  forensic scientist in Oxfordshire. His research focuses on microRNA, their roles in feeding and metabolism in the fruit fly – drosophila melanogaster. Looking forward,  he hopes to add – small but significant – scientific value to the fields of metabolism, ageing and/or evolutionary roles of non-coding RNAs. In his free time,  he enjoys the gym, running and reading. He is a qualified scuba diving instructor and, where he can, enjoys diving around the British Isles.

Abigail Talbotpicture of Abigail

Year of study: Year 1

BBSRC Theme: Understanding the Rules of Life

Rotation project & supervisors: 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

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.