News and Events

Congratulations to Dr Adam Dobson on his paper in Aging and Mechanisms of Disease!

Ageing human populations present a huge societal challenge, and provides motivation to find ways to improve health in old age. Dietary restriction (DR), is one way to improve late-life health of animals from worms to mammals, and perhaps humans. This effect was first observed over 80 years ago, but the underlying mechanism has proven elusive. In this study, gene expression was profiled in diverse tissues of flies subjected to DR, and from these results a role for proteins called GATA transcription factors was predicted. Reducing expression of GATA transcription factors altered the effect of diet on lifespan, and targeting this knockdown to specific tissues reduced side-effects commonly associated with longevity. Therefore this study predicts that targeting GATA transcription factors in specific tissues may promote the benefits, but not costs, of DR.

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Professor Sam Berry (26 October 1934 – 29 March 2018)

With sadness we note the passing of Professor R J (Sam) Berry, who was the Professor of Genetics at UCL (from 1974) and an active member of the Genetics, Evolution and Environment Department up to the present, and a massive figure in evolutionary and ecological genetics, biodiversity and conservation biology. He was also a leading Christian and wrote extensively on science and religion. We will miss him greatly.
Andrew Pomiankowski

The National Biodiversity Network
The John Ray Initiative
A Rocha International

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Washington Post highlights Dr Karoline Kuchenbaecker's research

Women who carry a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene have an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. For prevention it is important to know cancer risks at different ages.
Dr Karoline Kuchenbaecker (research profile) was involved in the first large study to estimate those risks based on data from women with BRCA mutation that were initially cancer-free.
Now an article in the Washington Post demonstrates what this means for women with a BRCA mutation.

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Congratulations! Bright SCIdea Challenge

The winners of the £1,000 prize were UCL’s Glucoguard – Camillo Moschner, Jack O’Shea and Libby Linfield – who impressed with their innovative business based on a genetically modified bacterium for the treatment of type II diabetes.

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New report by Evgeniy Galimov and colleagues describes the occurrence of rigor mortis during the early stages of organismal death in C. elegans

Ageing does not cause death by itself but rather drives mortal pathologies. The nature of organismal death and how it is triggered by old age is relatively poorly studied in mammals and barely at all in C. elegans. The study from David Gems' lab, published in Cell Reports, describes a new death-related phenomenon in C. elegans – a wave of muscle hyper-contraction similar to mammalian rigor mortis. Unlike humans C. elegans lack a cardiovascular system, so rigor mortis in worms is an early step during the process of organismal death, likely caused by depletion of ATP. Rigor mortis precedes the blue fluorescent wave of intestinal necrosis, a previously discovered death phenomenon in C. elegans, and is closely coupled with it. Rigor mortis and intestinal necrosis are propagated in an anterior-to-posterior wave by calcium release, and long-lived daf-2 mutants appear resistant to organismal death. This study provides insights into Ca2+-mediated death mechanisms that are conserved from yeast to mammals, and is an interesting model for necrosis-driven neurodegenerative diseases. It defines another link in the chain of events from the development of senescent pathologies to death from old age.

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Women at Royal Society – a journey to gender equality

A recent publication in Nature looked into how female fellows fared in the world’s oldest scientific academy.
We are pleased to report that Professors Mace and Partridge’s contribution to raising gender equality in the Royal Society were recognised by the article authors.

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Face of first Brit revealed thanks to GEE's Professor Mark Thomas, Dr Yoan Diekmann and Natural History Museum researchers

Congratulations to Professor Mark Thomas and Dr Yoan Diekmann (both UCL Genetics, Evolution & Environment) who analysed Cheddar Man’s DNA sequences to establish aspects of his appearance. Following the Natural History Museum and Channel 4 press briefing held on 6 Febraury the story has been picked up by a number of national and international newspapers and boradcasters including the Times, Guardian, Telegraph, BBC, ITV, Sky to name but a few.

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When did flowers originate? - a new study by GEE's Professor Ziheng Yang, Dr Jose Barba-Montoya and colleagues

The study, published recently in New Phytologist by researchers from the UK and China, shows that flowering plants are neither as old as suggested by previous molecular studies, nor as young as a literal interpretation of their fossil record.

Read full article: When did flowers originate?
Read full paper: Constraining uncertainty in the timescale of angiosperm evolution and the veracity of a Cretaceous Terrestrial Revolution

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"Self-Organized Attractor Dynamics in the Developing Head Direction Circuit" - new paper by Cacucci lab

Summary: Head direction (HD) cells are neurons found in an extended cortical and subcortical network that signal the orientation of an animal’s head relative to its environment. They are a fundamental component of the wider circuit of spatially responsive hippocampal formation neurons that make up the neural cognitive map of space. During post-natal development, HD cells are the first among spatially modulated neurons in the hippocampal circuit to exhibit mature firing properties, but before eye opening, HD cell responses in rat pups have low directional information and are directionally unstable. Using Bayesian decoding of HD cell ensemble activity recorded in the anterodorsal thalamic nucleus (ADN), we characterize this instability and identify its source: under- signaling of angular head velocity, which incompletely shifts the directional signal in proportion to head turns. We find evidence that geometric cues (the corners of a square environment) can be used to mitigate this under-signaling and, thereby, stabilize the directional signal even before eye opening. Crucially, even when directional firing cannot be stabilized, ensembles of unstable HD cells show short-timescale (1–10 s) temporal and spatial couplings consistent with an adult-like HD network. The HD network is widely modeled as a continuous attractor whose output is one coherent activity peak, updated during movement by angular head velocity signals and anchored by landmark cues. Our findings present strong evidence for this model, and they demonstrate that the required network circuitry is in place and functional early during development, independent of reference to landmark information.

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"Latin Americans show wide-spread Converso ancestry and the imprint of local Native ancestry on physical appearance" - new preprint from UGI's Juan Camilo Chacón-Duque, Garrett Hellenthal, Kaustubh Adhikari, Macarena Fuentes-Guajardo, Javier Mendoza Revilla and colleagues

Abstract: Historical records and genetic analyses indicate that Latin Americans trace their ancestry mainly to the admixture of Native Americans, Europeans and Sub-Saharan Africans. Using novel haplotype-based methods here we infer the sub-populations involved in admixture for over 6,500 Latin Americans and evaluate the impact of sub-continental ancestry on the physical appearance of these individuals. We find that pre-Columbian Native genetic structure is mirrored in Latin Americans and that sources of non-Native ancestry, and admixture timings, match documented migratory flows. We also detect South/East Mediterranean ancestry across Latin America, probably stemming from the clandestine colonial migration of Christian converts of non-European origin (Conversos). Furthermore, we find that Central Andean ancestry impacts on variation of facial features in Latin Americans, particularly nose morphology, possibly relating to environmental adaptation during the evolution of Native Americans.

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