(Previously Future Leader fellows)
Interested in becoming a fellow? Go to the Discovery Fellowships page (in Funding section).
For details of all current Discovery fellows, please use the links below
Dr Rahul Bhosale, University of Nottingham
Exploiting anatomical traits to accelerate breeding of novel stress tolerant crops
Root anatomical traits for example root cortical aerenchyma formation (RCA) enable plants to acquire more soil resources for less metabolic investment and thus improves crop yield under drought and suboptimal nutrient conditions. Rahul recently used root anatomical information generated by his collaborators, using a novel interdisciplinary approach termed ‘Anatomics’, for hundreds of different maize varieties to perform Genome Wide Association Studies and identified key candidate genes controlling RCA trait. During this fellowship, he will investigate how these genes regulate developmental programme(s) of RCA formation in maize in response to environmental signals and perform field studies in Senegal, Africa to translate his research outputs in maize to other ‘orphan’ cereal crops like pearl millet using marker assisted breeding approaches. This work will help better understand molecular mechanisms underlying RCA trait in cereal crops and help accelerate the breeding of more drought tolerant and nutrient efficient crop varieties with improved yield.
Dr William Birmingham, University of Manchester
Bio-MAANICC - Biocatalytic Manufacturing of beta-Amino Acids: Nucleophilic addition to an Imine for C-C bond formation
Will is a biochemist at The University of Manchester. His research is focused on the application of protein engineering and directed evolution to develop enzymatic systems for chemical synthesis. Establishing these biocatalytic routes can lead to more environmentally friendly alternatives to chemical processes for the production of components in medicines, fragrances, polymers, fuels and other high-value chemicals. Will’s research during this fellowship will combine aspects of structural biology and mechanistic enzymology to rationally guide the development of engineered enzymes that catalyse a synthetically valuable reaction not currently offered by known biocatalysts. The utility of these biocatalysts will be demonstrated through the production of a class of building block compounds that have significant pharmaceutical value, but are often difficult to make chemically. The goal of the project is to provide new tools to establish productive and ‘greener’ routes for synthesizing a diverse variety of these chemical building blocks, which will facilitate research toward advancing their potential in medical and chemical applications.
Dr Josh Firth, University of Oxford
Understanding Age and Society using Natural Populations
A major issue facing human societies around the globe is rapid population ageing. Age affects almost all aspects of individuals’ lives, as well as the functioning of societies. Yet, our fundamental understanding of how age affects society structure and individual sociality remains lacking.
Natural animal populations are now widely accepted as particularly useful for examining how and why individuals age. Further, recent advances in tracking technologies have given rise to hundreds of studies quantifying animal social networks, often over individuals’ entire lifetimes and across multiple generations.
Through analyzing various species’ social networks, along with carrying out experiments, my research aims to realise the currently neglected potential that natural populations offer for gaining novel insights into the interplay between age and society. This aims to provide a new understanding of how age shapes individuals’ social behaviour and governs the emerging structure and functioning of societies.
Dr Irene Cordero Herrera, The University of Manchester
Un-stable microbiomes - Stability to drought of soil microbiomes shaped by land use and plant species
Irene is a soil ecologist based at The University of Manchester. She studies soil microbial communities in grasslands and how they are affected by different perturbations. Soils are inhabited by a myriad of different microorganisms, including fungi and bacteria. These complex microbial communities are responsible for many ecosystem services, such as organic matter decomposition, nutrient cycling, and carbon storage. These fundamental services are threatened by climate change, which is predicted to cause increasingly frequent severe droughts, and land use intensification due to the ever-increasing demand for food production. Irene’s research tries to understand how these two major threats will interact with one another to impact upon soil and plant health in the future. Using state-of-the-art techniques, Irene’s research will not only produce new insights into the mechanisms by which soil microbiomes respond to climate extremes, but will also generate new knowledge fundamental to better understanding the challenges that our grasslands and global food security will face in the future.
Dr Emily Kostas, University College London
Unlocking the Brown Macroalgal Cell Wall: From Renewable UK Resource to Value-Added Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals
Emily is a bioscientist based at the Advanced Centre for Biochemical Engineering at UCL. She has an interest in developing bio-refinery processes using seaweeds for the production of a range of highly valuable products, as this will help to ensure that mankind makes efficient usage of bioresources and to replace petro-chemical derived sources. Seaweed polysaccharides are of particular interest since they are known to possess a range of unique bioactive properties (anti-oxidant, prebiotic, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer), colloidal properties and may have useful applications across various industries. The main objective of Emily’s research is to gain a detailed understanding of the associations and location of the main algal polysaccharides found within the seaweed cell wall complex and architecture. This will then aid in the development of efficient yet sustainable recovery methodologies and also identify novel high-end applications of recovered seaweed polysaccharides such as in food and beverages, pharmaceuticals and/or for biofuel production. This research will ultimately drive the development of novel UK-seaweed bio-refineries to be realised and add value to the UK bioeconomy.
Dr Guru Radhakrishnan, John Innes Centre
Investigation of conserved infection pathways in Puccinia species to identify novel targets for pathogen control
Guru is a data-intensive biologist at the John Innes Centre, studying the evolution of plant pathogens. Plant diseases come with enormous economic cost to food production and it is vital that we protect our food crops from diseases by developing methods for combating plant pathogens. A robust disease prevention strategy requires that we are able to rapidly respond to both current and future strains of plant pathogens. Therefore, there is a need to develop tailored control methods that can quickly be engineered to combat pathogen adaptability. To do this, we need a comprehensive understanding of how diverse pathogens infect and cause disease on plants. Guru’s work will address this by developing a long-needed understanding of the mechanisms used by a group of pathogenic fungi called the Puccinia rust fungi to infect their plant hosts. He will achieve this through the application of cutting-edge genomics and high-resolution microscopy technologies.
Dr Joanna Sadler, The University of Edinburgh
Molecular up-cycling: bio-transforming waste plastic into value-added products
Over 8 million tonnes of plastic waste end up in the oceans each year and by 2050 there could be more plastic in the seas by weight than fish. Not only is this a significant threat to marine ecosystems, but it also sequesters materials prepared from non-renewable fossil fuels. This project unites cutting edge research from both the chemical and biological sciences to use plastic as a substrate for the circular bioeconomy, with an initial focus on poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET). The ultimate aim is to derive value from plastic waste via a new ‘molecular up-cycling’ platform, which will be developed in two phases. In Phase I, a robust and efficient method for the biocompatible degradation of PET will be established. In Phase II, the degradation of PET will be integrated with engineered microbial cell factories for the production of value-added small molecules from the PET degradation products.
Dr Lucas Scorza Frungillo, The University of Edinburgh
Exploiting the self-regulatory circuit of nitrate assimilation in plants for improved nitrogen use efficiency and crop sustainability
Lucas is a biochemist at The University of Edinburgh. He aims to understand the molecular mechanisms that underpin specificity in signalling propagation, with a particular focus on redox-based post-translational control of nutrient assimilation in plants. Plants balance nutrient assimilation accordingly to its availability in soil and metabolic status. Redox-based post-translational modifications are ubiquitous core components of nutrient assimilation. However, how signalling is controlled and specificity achieved is largely unknown. This unsettled knowledge is hindering the exploitation of redox-based traits to improve crop productivity.
By using large-scale genetic and proteomic approaches and inter-disciplinary imaging techniques, he will investigate fundamental principles by which control of protein activity is achieved and their biotechnological exploitation to optimize nutrient usage.
Dr Tovah Shaw, The University of Manchester
Determining how the microbiota and dietary selenium influence the function of long-lived intestinal macrophages to promote gut health
The gut is a critical life-supporting organ, extracting nutrients and water from the food we eat. In order to efficiently extract and process nutrients from food, the gut relies on the large community of “friendly bacteria” housed within it, termed “the microbiota”. The cells of our gut that defend us against disease-causing bacteria, known as immune cells, therefore face a huge challenge, as they must not respond to food particles or the microbiota, whilst efficiently identifying and destroying disease-causing bacteria and other harmful microorganisms. Developments in lifestyle, such as the widespread use of antibiotics and consumption of processed foods, have caused great changes to our dietary nutrition and microbiota that, in turn, maybe affecting the function of gut immune cells and dramatically limiting our health and wellbeing. My research aims to understand how gut immune cells maintain health, how modern lifestyle choices are affecting gut immune cells, and whether we can boost the function of gut immune cells using specific bacterial or nutritional supplements.
Dr Shoko Sugasawa, University of St. Andrews
Object manipulation without hands: kinematics and evolution of nest building by birds
The ability to manipulate objects is a key to the incredible success of humans. Our hands enable flexible manipulative actions to make structures like shelters or tools. Amazingly, however, some animals build structures that are uncannily similar to human craftwork, such as woven knots and pottery, without hands. The builders of such structures are birds, including weaverbirds making knots from grass strips to make a nest, or swallows using mud to make pot-like nests. How do these birds make such human-like structures without hands, simply using their bills? To answer this question, Shoko will use lab and field experiments and advanced tracking, along with large-scale comparative analyses. Her research will provide new insights into the evolutionary origin of the ability to manipulate and construct objects.
Dr Asaph Zylbertal, University College London
Matter of context: Revealing the circuit architecture of internal brain state influence on behaviour
Human and animal behaviour depends on multiple contextual factors such as emotional state, time of day and how satiated or alert we are. My aim is to understand how distributed neural activity related to such factors combine to influence fundamental brain function.
I will use ‘light-sheet’ microscopy to individually track the activity of each of the 80,000 neurons that make up the zebrafish brain. To analyse such a complex dataset, I will use machine-learning algorithms that will enable me to identify neurons that can predict if the animal is likely to respond to a specific visual cue. Such cells are likely to signal contextual information and my computational modelling will resolve how they work together to collectively influence behaviour. To test my hypotheses, I will directly manipulate neural activity and examine the resulting effects on activity elsewhere in the brain and on the behaviour of the fish.
Because all vertebrates possess the same basic brain plan, my experimental findings are likely to reveal principles about how the brain controls behaviour which will apply to many species, including humans.