Future Leader fellows
Interested in becoming a fellow? Go to the page (in Funding section).
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.