News and Events

With great sadness, we announce the death of our esteemed colleague Professor Mitch Glickstein, on March 14th 2017

Professor Glickstein was born in Roxbury, south of Boston, in 1931. He attended different schools in the Boston area and showed the same indifference to nearly all of them, but managed to enter Bucknell University in Pennsylvania and, subsequently, transfer to the University of Chicago. He loved living in Chicago and studying in that great institution known for its academic rigour, diverse student body and lively political culture at a time when McCarthyism was in full swing. Following graduation in 1951, he set off on a great adventure around the world, using commercial ships at sea and various forms of transport on land, to visit England, France, Italy, Greece, Israel, Ceylon, Singapore, Korea and Japan for various lengths of time, before returning to the United States. He returned to the University of Chicago a few years later to begin his postgraduate studies in psychology.
This was a crucial period in his life when he decided that he did not want to be a clinical psychologist, but began to show a keen interest in the study of the brain. Undoubtedly, he was influenced by many of his already renown teachers and associates such as Austin Riesen, Roger Sperry, Ronnie Myers and Garth Thomas amongst others. He followed Roger Sperry to Cal Tech as a Research Fellow upon receiving his PhD in 1958. He found Cal Tech a lively place and Sperry’s lab a fertile ground for neuroscience. It was full of excellent people doing brilliant science either on nerve regeneration or on the function of the corpus callosum; the latter of which became the focus of Mitch’s work during his 2-year stay in the lab. He subsequently moved to Stanford to work with Karl Pribram in 1960-1961.

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Dr Conrad King (1936-2017), former Senior Lecturer, UCL

It is sad to report that Conrad King who was a Senior Lecturer in Zoology in the Department of Biology died in his sleep (23rd March), in Venice where he was living with his partner Wendy Rees. Conrad had an extremely wide circle of friends & colleagues in UCL and in the international scientific community. Anyone wishing to share their memories, please contact Hugh White (hawhite@blueyonder.co.uk).

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Congratulations Dr Anna Czarkwiani on her PhD Viva Success

Anna successfully defended her thesis entitled 'Towards a gene regulatory network for the regeneration of the adult skeleton in the brittle star Amphiura filiformis’  Many congratulations Dr Czarkwiani!

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DNA analyses of wild pollinators provide a simple solution to reverse their declining populations

Bumblebees are among the most popular and widely recognised insect pollinators. Remarkably, we lack an understanding of some of the basic and fundamental aspects of bumblebee ecology and so our ability to manage the landscape to help reverse declines in the populations is limited.

A team led by scientists at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, working with researchers from the University of East Anglia, ZSL (Zoological Society of London), University of Bristol and the Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research, UCL, combined genetic analyses with land scape ecology and modelling to  to reveal some of the previously hidden details of the ecology and genetic structure of queen and worker bumblebees, and their relationships with habitat variables, such as the availability of flowers. The genetics component of the work was led by Dr Seirian Sumner, in CBER, GEE.

By creating statistical models of the probability of year-on-year survival they demonstrated that survival of a bumblebee lineage from one year to the next was significantly related to the coverage of both spring and summer flower resources in the surroundings of the colony. These findings, published in Nature, suggest that agricultural landscapes must provide year-round resources if they are to be truly beneficial for their resident bumblebee populations.

These findings are applicable to anyone wishing to manage farmland, or indeed their own back gardens, in a bumblebee-friendly way. In particular, they offer effective management advice for conservation and show that conservation interventions that increase floral resources at a landscape scale and throughout the season have positive effects on wild pollinators in agricultural landscapes.

Read the story behind the publication

Image © L. Hulmes

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European Research Council (ERC) week: UCL celebrates its funding successes

UCL celebrates its funding success during the ERC's 10th Anniversary Week and highlights several years of ULC achievements in attracting ERC funding including a case study of Professor Judith Mank, ERC recipient of both an ERC Starting grant and an ERC Consolidator grant.  See UCL News for full story. 

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BBSRC grant success for Ziheng Yang's group to study Phylogeographic inference using genomic sequence data under the multispecies coalescent model

Ziheng has been awarded a three-year BBSRC grant (£399K) to work on "Phylogeographic inference using genomic sequence data under the multispecies coalescent model".  Dr Xiyun Jiao is hired as a postdoc on the grant.  Xiyun finished a PhD in statistics from Imperial, working on smart MCMC algorithms.  She will be joining Ziheng's group on 1 May 2017.

Also Dr Tomas Flouri will be joining Ziheng's group on the same day as a postdoc on another BBSRC grant.  Tomas has a PhD in theoretical computer science, and has been working on RAxML and PLL (phylogenetic likelihood library) in Professor Alexis Stamatakis's group.

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New paper from the Patel lab published in Cell Reports identifies Ca2+ as a key regulator of physical junctions between organelles

Endosomes form junctions with the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) but how such proximity is regulated is unclear. The paper by joint first authors Bethan Kilpatrick and Emily Eden shows that release of Ca2+ by an endosomal ion channel facilitates inter-organellar coupling to temper signals mediated by an internalised growth factor. Endosome-ER contact sites thus emerge as Ca2+-dependent signalling hubs.

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Raising Horizons exhibition

Raising Horizons is a temporary photographic exhibition organised by TrowelBlazers in collaboration with photographer Leonora Saunders. It features contemporary female scientists photographed as their historical counterparts to draw attention to the diversity of women in science and the often underappreciated contributions of women to science. 
Division of Biosciences is proud to announce Professor Anjali Goswami is one of the participants photographed dressed as turn-of-the-century Dorothea Bate, a mammalian palaeobiologist and the first female scientist employed by the NHM.

Date: 1-28 February 2017
Time: 9.30 - 5.30
Venue: the Geological Society Lower Library

Further exhibition details can be found on the Geological Society website: https://www.geolsoc.org.uk/Raising-Horizons

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Obituary E. B. Robson, PhD. Galton Professor of Human Genetics, University College London (1928- 2016) died July 18th 2016

Bette Robson was an important figure in the development of our understanding of human genetics and gene mapping for a period of more than 40 years.  She retired from the Galton Chair in 1993.

After obtaining a 1st Class Hons BSc in Zoology, University of Durham her first research was done in the Galton Laboratory at University College London (UCL) in 1950-53.  Lionel Penrose was Head of Department and she did a PhD on the knotty topic of human birth weight and stabilising selection, which is still a significant area of research.  This was followed by a year with a Rockefeller Travelling Fellowship in the USA, principally at Columbia University, NYC with Professors L. C. Dunn and T. Dobzhansky. After returning to the Galton laboratory She also learnt a great deal from the very wide circle of scientists, doctors and others who frequented ‘The Galton’ in those days.  She moved from UCL to work with Harry Harris at the London Hospital Medical School in 1957, to broaden her experience and develop new techniques to identify human genes.  This work was based on Oliver Smithies’ new invention of starch gel electrophoresis and genetic analysis of human haptoglobins.  

This work was very successful and led directly to the formation of a new Medical Research Council Unit, in Kings College London, in 1962, with Harry Harris as Unit director.  Bette introduced two-dimensional electrophoresis of human pseudo-cholinesterase (E1) and discovered a new polymorphism (Nature 1962, 196, 1296-1298).  Within a few years she also had evidence of linkage between this enzyme (E1) and the transferrin (Tf) locus (Ann Hum Genet. 1966, 29, 325).  Also with David Hopkinson, she set up a large international consortium to carry out linkage analysis (Am. J. Hum. Genet. 1965, 17,109) on the recently discovered red cell acid phosphatase polymorphism (Nature 1963. 163,199).  Working directly with Harry Harris she carried out fundamental new work on the genetics of human placental alkaline phosphatase (Nature 1965. 207, 1257; Ann Hum. Genet. 1967. 30)  

At about this time, Lionel Penrose retired and Harry Harris was appointed Galton Professor at UCL.   A new Research building at UCL, Wolfson House, funded by the Wolfson Foundation, provided new homes for the Galton laboratory and the MRC Human Biochemical Research Unit in UCL.  

Bette was delighted to move from Kings College London and was able to continue extensive gene assignment and gene mapping projects which involved widespread collaborations.  She published one of the two first papers that mapped a gene to a human autosome in 1969, the assignment of the alpha locus of the human haptoglobin gene to chromosome 16 (Nature 1969. 223, 1163-5).  There were also many new collaborations within UCL as other colleagues and collaborators moved in to share the excitement and the new laboratories.
For example, during this period Bette enjoyed extra help from Peter Cook with his ideas and expertise in Gene Mapping, Gerald Corney brought expertise on twins and family studies and the MRC Blood Group Unit (Directors Ruth Sanger & Patricia Tippet) moved in to Wolfson House with extra knowledge and resources.  There were also many connections with ‘outside’ friends such as Walter Bodmer’s Unit at ICRF & Oxford, John Evans in Edinburgh and numerous other research groups in the UK and overseas, as gene mapping projects began to expand across the world.  

Harry Harris remained in post till 1976 when he moved to Philadelphia and in 1978 Bette became Galton Professor.  Over the years, Bette always supported the International Human Gene Mapping (HGM) workshops which brought together all the relevant information every 2 years from 1973 to 1991, by submitting data, chairing the overall summaries for many different chromosomes and robustly participating in the discussions.  She also enjoyed the less formal social aspects of these remarkable gatherings.  Apart from the exciting new science at the Los Angeles work shop in 1982 she was delighted to see so many lively young scientists attending. She encouraged her own post graduate students and young   postdocs to go to these workshops and present their own data.  Recent letters from former students have commented that her supervision was rigorous but in the end very supportive and enabling.  Senior colleagues were many times guided by the clear critical thinking and sharp wit of her advice.  In 1988 Bette became a member of the founding council of the Human Genome Organisation (HUGO) described at the time as ‘The UN of the Human Genome’ (Genomics 1989 5:385).

She also took on extra responsibilities at UCL for organising undergraduate and postgraduate teaching of Human Genetics in UCL and mentoring students.  She enjoyed advising and helping these students and many of them stayed on in UCL and remained good friends for years.  She also enjoyed cultural interests outside science and was happy to encourage this both in staff and students. She had a love for Italy and all things Italian with many Italian friends. She was an enthusiastic gardener at home and agreed to serve as one of the original Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG) at Kew in October 1983, when the Board was first created, and served there for 8 years.

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Congratulations to Dr Lucy Van Dorp

Congratulation to Dr Lucy Van Dorp on the successful defence of her thesis entitled 'Investigating processes driving genetic diversity in human populations using dense haplotypes'

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Mapping movements of alien bird species

The global map of alien bird species has been produced for the first time by a UCL-led team of researchers. It shows that human activities are the main determinants of how many alien bird species live in an area but that alien species are most successful in areas already rich with native bird species.

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High-sugar diet programmes a short lifespan in flies

Flies with a history of eating a high sugar diet live shorter lives, even after their diet improves. This is because the unhealthy diet drives long-term reprogramming of gene expression, according to a UCL-led team of researchers
Full story on UCL News Site

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Professor E. B. Robson (1928-2016) former Galton Professor, UCL

Professor E. B. Robson (1928-2016), former Galton Professor, died earlier this year (18 July 2016). We hope to publish an obituary in 2017 and would appreciate recollections from those who knew her. Please contact Professor Sue Povey on s.povey@ucl.ac.uk

(Accompanying image is from Bette’s path-breaking paper with Harry Harris in 1965 (Nature 207, 1257-1259) using gel electrophoresis to uncover alleles of the human alkaline phosphatase gene).

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Congratulations to Dr Arunas Radzvilavicius

Congratulations to Dr Arunas Radzvilavicius on the successful completion of his PhD.  Arunas, jointly supervised by Professor Andrew Pomiankowski and Dr Nick Lane, successfully defended his thesis "Evolutionary Dynamics of Mitochondrial Mutations in the Origin and Development of Eukaryotic Sex" subject to minor corrections.  The examiners were Prof Richard Goldstein (UCL) and Professor Tom Richards (Exeter).

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CDB's Szabadkai team receives Wellcome Trust Pathfinder Award to study mitochondrial subtypes of breast cancer

Gyorgy Szabadkai (UCL Department of Cell and Developmental Biology) together with Robert Stein (UCLH, UCL Cancer Institute) and Mariia Yuneva (Francis Crick Institute) and Kevin Bryson (UCL Computer Sciences) as CoI, has received a Wellcome Trust Pathfinder Award to develop a mitochondrial gene expression based biomarker to inform on chemosensitivity of luminal breast tumours.

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Developing Next Generation Social Sciences

Alex Stewart along with a scientific team University of Pennsylvania, Yale, Princeton and Indiana University has received an award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop and validate reproducible methods for studying human social behavior.

DARPA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense that invests in breakthrough technologies to support national security. The award is part of DARPA’s new Next Generation Social Science program, or NGS2, which aims to revolutionize the speed, scale and rigor with which social science is performed.

The grant provides the multi-disciplinary team with $2.95 million for two years, with a possible additional $2.3 million for a subsequent one-and-a-half years, dependent on progress, to further the goals of the NGS2 program, a key one being to develop a deeper understanding of the factors that drive the emergence or collapse of collective identity in human populations.

Alexander Stewart, University College London.
Joshua B. Plotkin, University of Pennsylvania
Erol Akçay, University of Pennsylvania
David Rand, Yale University;
Simon Levin, Princeton University;
Johan Bollen, Indiana University

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GEE welcomes Seirian Sumner, Reader in Behavioural Ecology, CBER, UCL

We are delighted to announce that Seirian Sumner, formally a Senior Lecturer at Bristol,  has joined CBER (the Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research) as a Reader in Behavioural Ecology. Seirian’s research seeks to to explore the interface between behavioural ecology, biodiversity and conservation. 

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