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Discovery fellows (formerly Future Leader fellows)

Interested in becoming a fellow? Go to the Discovery Fellowships page (in Funding section).

2017 cohort

Dr Ariel Camp, University of Liverpool

Do fish have necks: measuring 3D motion of the vertebrae and axial muscle dynamics in suction-feeding fishes

Ariel is a biomechanist at the University of Liverpool, studying the evolution of the neck. This amazing set of muscles and bones allows the head to move three-dimensionally and independently of the limbs and body, but we know relatively little about the neck’s mechanics or origin. Fish offer a new perspective on these questions because they lack a true neck, but may still move their heads independently and in multiple directions. Ariel will use X-ray video and digital models of the spine in different fish to visualize how the bones and muscles move three-dimensionally to produce neck-like motions. By linking the anatomy and motion of the backbone in living fish, her work will change our understanding of how the neck may have evolved, and provide new insights into how muscles across vertebrates—from fish to humans—produce and control motion.

Dr Pingtao Ding, The Sainsbury Laboratory; University of East Anglia

Probing mechanisms of pathogen effector recognition by plant Resistance proteins to elevate defence gene activation

Plant diseases are major threats to food and humanity. One effective solution is to identify more disease resistance genes from different plant species. Yet it is not fully understood how Resistance proteins trigger immunity through defence gene activation in plants, despite this being one of the most important molecular bases of any plant disease resistance. Pingtao has discovered novel proteins that regulate defence genes. These proteins are evolutionary highly conserved in plants. During his fellowship, Pingtao will investigate how these proteins are regulated upon the activation of Resistance proteins, and how they regulate their targets, and he will look for additional proteins that are involved in plant innate immunity. This work will lead to the holistic understanding of plant disease resistance. In addition, the knowledge obtained from this work can help to advance plant breeding for optimal immunity and yield.

Dr Amy Ellison, Cardiff University

FUTUREFISH: The role of circadian rhythms, immunity and infection in enhancing aquaculture

Amy is a molecular parasitologist based at Cardiff University School of Biosciences. Her research interest is the role of circadian rhythms in the health and welfare of managed animals. During this fellowship, Amy will examine the impact of manipulated light regimes, commonly used in aquaculture, on the susceptibility of fish to various ectoparasites. She will be characterising the circadian variation in gene expression of fish hosts and their skin parasites. In addition, Amy will be defining the circadian profile of fish skin commensal microbiota during parasite infection and antibiotic treatment. Taken together, this work will provide novel insights into how the power of circadian rhythms can be harnessed to enhance current aquaculture practices and, more broadly, minimise disease risks in managed animal populations.

Dr Taya Forde, University of Glasgow

Novel molecular approaches for understanding the epidemiology of endemic anthrax

Taya is a molecular epidemiologist and veterinarian based at the University of Glasgow. Her research is focused on anthrax, a poverty-related zoonotic disease that remains a major public health issue in many developing countries. In this project, she will apply cutting-edge techniques at the forefront of bacterial genomics to answer key questions about the epidemiology of anthrax that currently limit its control, including how the bacterium is spread and transmitted. Taya’s study, which focuses on highly affected rural communities in Tanzania, will take a One Health approach, working at the intersection between people, livestock and wildlife within their shared environment. By delivering a step-change in our understanding of the epidemiology of anthrax, results of this study will help inform the management and control of this neglected disease. Ultimately, this project will lead to enhanced animal and human health, and improved food security and poverty alleviation through reduced livestock losses.

Dr Matthew Jenner, University of Warwick

Mapping Protein-Protein Interactions in Modular Polyketide Synthases by Carbene Footprinting

Matt’s research is focussed on applying state-of-the-art mass spectrometry and structural biology techniques to investigate the function of modular polyketide synthase (PKS) multi-enzymes at the molecular level. These remarkable molecular machines, often likened to assembly lines, are responsible for the biosynthesis of a diverse array of structurally complex natural products, several of which have important applications in medicine and agriculture. His work aims to deliver an in-depth understanding of the protein-protein interactions governing the catalytic function of modular PKSs. Such understanding is required to improve our ability to rationally engineer these enzymes to make novel natural products.

Dr Nils Kolling, University of Oxford

Neural mechanisms of flexibility, motivation and learning in ecological environments

Nils is a neuroscientist and psychologist interested in how our brains make decisions and motivate us to engage with our environment. For this, he uses a variety of brain imaging tools, such as magnetoencephalography (MEG) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

While a lot of work has gone into understanding the parts of the brain involved in simple consumer choices (e.g. what food to buy in supermarket), we know remarkably little about other kinds of real-life decision making. Imagine you are foraging for mushrooms or other food in a forest. It might not seem to you as if you are making many deliberate decisions, but such searching requires many features to be considered. Is the current patch of the forest a good place for finding mushrooms or are there any other items of value there? If not, where should I go next and how long should I search there? As this is evolutionarily an important decision our brains presumably evolved to be good at this kind of decision-making. His research aims to understand how these ecological choices are implemented, the role different brain regions play, what the precise mechanisms are and how these processes change throughout a person’s lifespan.

Dr Jackie Lighten, University of Exeter

Applying genomics to establish mechanisms of disease resistance against a virus impacting on a globally farmed fish, the Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio)

Jackie is an evolutionary biologist interested in applying genomics to understand the immune system and improve disease resistance in animals. Based at the University of Exeter, he is applying cutting-edge genomic approaches to understand infectious disease resistance in one of the world’s most important farmed fish, Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio). The objective of his research is to identify the global level differences in DNA between individual carp that are either resistant or susceptible to the deadly Koi Herpesvirus (KHV), and to characterise the genomic patterns of epidemiology of this virus. Understanding resistance at the DNA level may offer part of the solution to the problems facing aquaculture, enabling farmers to create diverse brood-stocks with resistance to local pathogens, thus promoting food security. The analysis tools developed during his fellowship will be applied to other emerging infectious diseases of carp, and his research can be used as a blueprint for other species in aquaculture.

Dr Rahia Mashoodh, University of Cambridge

Epigenetics and adaptive evolution within the family environment

Rahia is a behavioural epigeneticist based in the Department of Zoology at the University of Cambridge. Broadly speaking, she is interested in parental effects and how social experiences acquired across the lifespan could be inherited by, and impose specific developmental trajectories upon, future generations of offspring. One such possibility are epigenetic mechanisms, which are the biochemical marks and signals that ultimately determine how accessible DNA is to factors within the cell that allow it to be expressed. During this fellowship, Rahia plans to investigate the link between parental effects, epigenetic variation and behavioural adaptation and evolution. She proposes to tackle these questions using a combination of behavioural, physiological and high-throughput epigenomic and genomic sequencing methods using the burying beetle as a model system. Understanding the interaction between genetic and epigenetic change under changing environments and the degree of flexibility afforded by these systems has broad implications for the study of how traits become heritable between generations with applications for the fields of behavioural ecology, conservation, medicine and epidemiology.

Dr Thomas Mathers, John Innes Centre

Evolutionary genomics of host range expansion in aphid crop pests

Tom is an evolutionary biologist at the John Innes Centre. He is interested in understanding how generalist insect pests are able to successfully colonise a diverse range of host plants. Insect pests inflict significant economic damage to agricultural crops in the UK and across the world. Some insect pests have evolved the ability to colonise hundreds of different host plant species whereas others are specialised on a single species. Generalist pest species, that colonise many hosts, are particularly harmful because they can spread infectious diseases and pathogens between their hosts. Tom’s project will combine comparative genomics with functional analysis to identify genetic adaptations that underpin the evolution of exceptionally broad host ranges in aphids. This project will greatly expand genomic resources available for aphids and potentially reveal pathways and genes that could serve as targets for new, more benign, control methods in the future.

Dr Stineke van Houte, University of Exeter

CRISPR-Cas9 gene drives to fight antimicrobial resistance

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) poses a tremendous challenge to our society. Recently, a revolutionary technology has been developed, known as CRISPR-Cas9, which can be used to eradicate genes encoding AMR from microbial communities. However, this technology has only been tested under laboratory conditions, and is not yet ready for use in the real world. Stineke’s proposed research aims to develop a new technology to use CRISPR-Cas9, originally discovered as a bacterial immune system, to eradicate AMR genes from a gut microbial community. She will first develop methods to ensure CRISPR-Cas9 can successfully enter and spread through the microbial community. Stineke then aims to understand the potential risks associated with applying such a technology in the real world by studying the ecological and evolutionary consequences of CRISPR-Cas9 on microbial communities. The outcome of her research project will provide an important step forward in the battle against AMR.

2016 cohort

Dr Michael Bok, University of Bristol

Looking with gills: The evolution and function of distributed visual systems in fan worms with a view to future resilient sensor arrays

Dr Matthew Loxham, University of Southampton

The Biological Effects of Shipping-Related Particulate Matter Air Pollution

Dr Estrella Luna-Diez, University of Birmingham

Exploiting the immune system to tackle emerging filamentous diseases in tomato

Dr Stefan Mairhofer, The University of Nottingham

Uncovering Root Responses to Environmental Signals with Dynamic µCT Image Analysis

Dr Adrian Muwonge, The Roslin Institute, The University of Edinburgh

The dynamics of antimicrobial resistance genes in the pig and human gut microbiome in Uganda

Dr Rowena Packer, Royal Veterinary College

Comorbidity and characteristics of canine neurodevelopmental disorders and their impact on animal welfare

Dr Jack Rivers-Auty, The University of Manchester

Understanding how dietary zinc and inflammation impact healthy ageing in the brain

Dr David Seung, John Innes Centre

Elucidating the mechanism of starch granule initiation in developing wheat grains

Dr Sarah Stewart, University of Cambridge

Mediating intercellular communication: mechanisms of extracellular vesicle transfer between cells

Jolanda Van Munster

Dr Jolanda van Munster, The University of Manchester

Sweet spots for fungal lignocellulose degradation; elucidating the enzymatic mechanism underpinning interaction of Aspergillus niger with wheat straw

2015 cohort

Dr Ann Babtie, Imperial College London

Developing robust systems biology models from high-throughput data

Dr Charlotte A. Brassey, Manchester Metropolitan University

Bones of contention: The functional morphology and biomechanics of the mammalian os penis and os clitoridis

Dr Neil Brown, University of Bath

Do G-protein coupled receptors regulate pathogenesis and mycotoxin biosynthesis in filamentous phytopathogenic fungi?

Dr Alice Denton, Babraham Institute

Age-associated defects in lymph node stromal cell function and the consequences for immunisation

Dr Christopher Douse, University of Cambridge

Interactions, structure and mechanism of transgene activation suppressor (TASOR), an uncharacterized member of the Human Silencing Hub (HUSH) complex

Dr Christopher Jones, Rothamsted Research

Understanding the genetic mechanisms of phenotypic plasticity in insect migration

Dr Georgette Kluiters, University of Liverpool

Nematode parasitism of arbovirus vectors: effect of mermithids on Culicoides biting midges and their potential use for disease and vector control

Dr Iain H. Moal, European Molecular Biology Laboratory, European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI)

Elucidating the evolutionary mechanisms shaping cell signalling networks

Dr Patrick Moynihan, University of Birmingham

Nothing wasted: Peptidoglycan recycling in mycobacteria

Dr Eamonn Reading, King's College London

Deciphering the conformational mechanisms of nascent membrane protein folding

Dr Antonia Sagona, The University of Warwick

Engineering synthetic phages against pathogenic E. coli as an innovative tool for phage therapy

Dr Lewis Spurgin, University of East Anglia

The genomics of thermal adaptation in a model pest insect

2014 cohort

Dr Peter G. Adams, University of Leeds

Artificial thylakoids: a bio-inspired platform for investigating membrane assembly and organization

Dr Matthew Apps, University of Oxford

A biological framework for understanding and modulating apathy in healthy people

Dr Liz Ballou, University of Birmingham

The Cryptococcus neoformans Redoxome: The role of Rac GTPases in ROS Signal Transduction and Titanisation

Dr Jay Biernaskie, University of Oxford

The natural genetic basis of cooperation in Arabidopsis: implications for crop improvement

Dr Philippa Borrill, John Innes Centre

Understanding the molecular control of senescence and nutrient remobilisation in wheat

Dr Emma Cahill, University of Cambridge

Dopamine modulation of GluN2B-mediated signalling as a target for fear memory intervention therapy

Dr Joanne Edgar, University of Bristol

Simulation of maternal care to improve welfare in chickens

Dr Sebastian Eves-van den Akker, University of Dundee

A synthetic biology approach to develop durable disease resistance in crops

Dr Lauren Guillette, University of St Andrews

Social learning in nest-building birds

Dr Alison Mather, University of Cambridge

The devil we know? Using sequencing and metagenomics to assess the diversity of bacteria and antimicrobial resistance captured by passive surveillance

Dr Jacqueline Monaghan, The Sainsbury Laboratory; University of East Anglia

Interplay between phosphorylation and ubiquitination in plant immune signaling homeostasis

Dr Urmas Roostalu, The University of Manchester

Mapping the regenerative capacity of pericytes from embryonic development to ageing