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It Pays to Be Different:Evolutionary Distinctiveness and Conservation Priorities

Tue, 15 Jul 2014 13:15:25 +0000

The world is currently experiencing an extinction crisis. A mass extinction on a scale not seen since the dinosaurs. While conservationists work tirelessly to try and protect the World’s biodiversity, it will not be possible to save everything, and it is important to focus conservation efforts intelligently. Evolutionary distinctiveness is a measure of how isolated [...]

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Synthetic Biology and Conservation

Mon, 07 Jul 2014 16:20:18 +0000

Synthetic biology, a hybrid between Engineering and Biology, is an emerging field of research promising to change the way we think about manufacturing, medicine, food production, and even conservation and sustainability. A review paper released this month in Oryx, authored by Dr Kent Redford, Professor William Adams, Dr Rob Carlson, Bertina Ceccarelli and CBER’s Professor [...]

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Measure Twice, Cut Once: Quantifying Biases in Sexual Selection Studies

Wed, 25 Jun 2014 10:44:30 +0000

Bateman’s principles are conceptually quite simple, but form the basis of our understanding of sexual selection across the animal kingdom. First proposed in 1948, Bateman’s three principles posit that sexual selection is more intense in males than in females for three reasons: 1) males show more variability in the number of mates they have (mating [...]

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Technology for Nature?

Mon, 16 Jun 2014 13:23:54 +0000

Many of our greatest technological advances have tended to mark disaster for nature. Cars guzzle fossil fuels and contribute to global warming; industrialised farming practices cause habitat loss and pollution; computers and mobile phones require harmful mining procedures to harvest rare metals. But increasingly, ecologists and conservation biologists are asking whether we can use technology [...]

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Nice Flies Don’t Finish Last: Meiotic Drive and Sexual Selection in Stalk-Eyed Flies

Thu, 12 Jun 2014 15:54:47 +0000

While it might seem as though our genes are all working together for our own good, some of them are actually rather selfish. Scientists have known about ‘selfish genetic elements’ for nearly a century, but research to understand their behaviour and effects is ongoing. Recent research in GEE reveals how sexually selected traits are signalling [...]

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MRC Career Development Award for Doug Speed

3 February 2014

Congratulations to Doug Speed who has been successful in gaining an MRC career development award in biostatistics.

The MRC has identified advanced biostatistics as a methodology of strategic importance to UK science.  The MRC Biostatistics Fellowship is one of a number of qualitative and quantitative schemes supported by the MRC under the Strategic Skills Fellowships banner. The scheme expects to make up to 3 awards a year.

The aim of the scheme is to encourage broad training programmes in biostatistics to support talented researchers who have recently completed their PhDs and wish to move into statistically based health related research.

The aim of Doug's fellowship is to develop methods for better understanding the genetics behind complex traits, then to apply these methods to improve prediction and classification of diseases. There are many diseases which we know to be highly heritable, but for which we have struggled to understand the genetic factors influencing risk.  For example, twin and family studies have shown that at least 50% of an individual's risk of developing epilepsy can be explained by genetics, but so far, we have discovered only a handful of genetic mutations impacting risk which in total explain less than 1% of the variation.

To better understand these diseases, we need to devise methods which allow for the fact that there are likely to be many hundreds, if not thousands, of variants affecting risk. Even though we are unlikely to discover the majority of these, we can still benefit greatly by determining which types of variants are causal. This information can then be accommodated in prediction models, which can be used to select individuals at high risk of developing a condition, and also for classification; many diseases, especially neurological traits, are highly heterogeneous, so diagnoses and prognoses will benefit by being able to use genetics to group individuals into subtypes.


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