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Congratulation to James Catterson on his Current Biology paper!

Intermittent fasting (IF) improves health and extends longevity in diverse model organisms. The fruit fly appeared to be the exception. A new paper from Catterson et al. now finds that IF in early adulthood increases healthy lifespan of fruit flies. The effects of short-term IF are long-lasting, indicating that even brief IF periods may have lifelong health benefits.

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Dr Ben Collen Obituary (12 February 1978 – 19 May 2018)

Dr Ben Collen was an internationally recognized conservation scientist whose work has provided new knowledge and understanding about recent trends in wildlife populations across the world. His research was at the forefront of developing science-based indicators to track the precipitous loss of biodiversity around the world and had a major impact on global conservation policies. He died on 19 May 2018 at the age of 40 following a bone cancer diagnosis just 15 months earlier. He tackled his illness with the same attitude that characterized his work, always being positive, open, creative and with great good humour. His untimely death has left a huge hole not only in UCL’s newly-established Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research, of which he was a founder member, but also in the international conservation science community.
After graduating in 2001 with a degree in Biology at Imperial College, Ben spent a year working in Kenya undertaking field work on large mammals. The bug to work in conservation took hold and he studied for a Master’s degree at the University of York, undertaking his research project with a like-minded set of conservation biologists based at the Institute of Zoology in London. Ben stayed on to study for a PhD with Professor Georgina Mace and Professor Andy Purvis at Imperial College on understanding how to assess species extinctions. In 2005, with his PhD completed, Ben joined the Indicators and Assessments Unit at the Institute of Zoology working with Dr Jonathan Baillie. Ben was instrumental in the re-launch of the WWF Living Planet Index (LPI). Ben massively enhanced the underlying data and rigour of the analysis of the index that established it as the most widely used indicator of global wildlife population trends, an essential tool for understanding human impacts on our planet’s biodiversity. His work led to a wide range of international collaborations with academics, governments and conservation charities, making him a key contributor to the landmark assessment of the state of global biodiversity in 2010.
In 2013 he joined UCL’s Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research (CBER) in the Genetics, Evolution and Environment Department, and was promoted to Reader in 2015. Ben played a critical role in defining CBER’s research agenda and developing it as an international centre of excellence for biodiversity research, now with over 40 research staff, post-docs and PhD students. Ben’s own research attracted a large group of research students and postdocs working on understanding how biodiversity is changing across the world, supported by several large research grants, most recently from the Leverhulme Trust, WWF UK and the Darwin Initiative. He made a major contribution to the re-establishment of an undergraduate field course at UCL’s unique field site at Blakeney Point on the north Norfolk coast, and will be remembered by a number of cohorts of Biological Science students for his lively encouragement of their first experience of field research.
We are all devastated by his untimely death, but his work and his style permeates CBER and his legacy will live on in his projects and his students. Our thoughts are with his wife Alanna, his daughter Ottilie and the rest of his family. Messages from around the world have paid tribute not only to his scientific contributions, but also his kindness, generosity of time and spirit, his mischievous sense of humour, and how he inspired so many to pursue careers in conservation. He was the very best of us, and he will be sorely missed by students, staff and friends alike.
Ben’s wife Alanna has set up a JustGiving page in his memory.

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NPP's Dr Stephanie Koch in conversation with the Naked Scientists team on developing our sense of touch

Dr Stephanie Koch was interviewed on The Naked Scientists, BBC Radio Cambridgeshire for a program on touch and sensation. The Naked Scientists produce science programmes for the general public, explaining current scientific breakthroughs and topical studies. In the final podcast of their series covering the five senses, Stephanie discussed how the sensation of touch develops in neonates and how we learn to respond to painful events.

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Gene may have helped humans adapt to cold climates - a new study supervised by UGI's Dr Aida Andres

For the study, published in PLOS Genetics, a team from UCL and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, investigated the evolution of TRPM8, a gene that codes for the only known receptor that enables a person to detect and respond to cool and cold temperatures. This receptor is also activated by menthol and is responsible for the refreshing feeling of mint-containing products.

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New research led by the Balloux lab tracks origins of the deadly fungus responsible for the decline in amphibian populations

The fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) is distributed around the world but to date it was not known where and when killer strains of the pathogen first emerged.
Now, new research published in Science indicates the killer fungus currently ravaging global amphibian populations originated in East Asia.

Read full article: Genome sequencing reveals origin of killer fungus behind the ‘amphibian plague’
Read full paper: Recent Asian origin of chytrid fungi causing global amphibian declines
Authors: Simon J. O’Hanlon, Adrien Rieux, Rhys A. Farrer, Gonçalo M. Rosa, Bruce Waldman, Arnaud Bataille, Tiffany A. Kosch, Kris A. Murray, Balázs Brankovics, Matteo Fumagalli, Michael D. Martin, Nathan Wales, Mario Alvarado-Rybak, Kieran A. Bates, Lee Berger, Susanne Böll, Lola Brookes, Frances Clare, Elodie A. Courtois, Andrew A. Cunningham, Thomas M. Doherty-Bone, Pria Ghosh, David J. Gower, William E. Hintz, Jacob Höglund, Thomas S. Jenkinson, Chun-Fu Lin, Anssi Laurila, Adeline Loyau, An Martel, Sara Meurling, Claude Miaud, Pete Minting, Frank Pasmans, Dirk S. Schmeller, Benedikt R. Schmidt, Jennifer M. G. Shelton, Lee F. Skerratt, Freya Smith, Claudio Soto-Azat, Matteo Spagnoletti, Giulia Tessa, Luís Felipe Toledo, Andrés Valenzuela-Sánchez, Ruhan Verster, Judit Vörös, Rebecca J. Webb, Claudia Wierzbicki, Emma Wombwell, Kelly R. Zamudio, David M. Aanensen, Timothy Y. James, M. Thomas P. Gilbert, Ché Weldon, Jaime Bosch, François Balloux, Trenton W. J. Garner, Matthew C. Fisher.

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Artificial muscles study led by the Tedesco lab promise to speed up testing of treatments for muscular dystrophies

The study, published in Cell Reports, found that 3D artificial muscles can be generated from both healthy and diseased stem cells of patients with different types of severe muscle disorders. The artificial muscles accurately model severe genetic muscle diseases, which will allow scientists to test different types of therapies on human cells that embody the characteristics of the patients.

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Escape to the country

Academics and researchers from GEE and the Natural History Museum escape the city heat for their biennial retreat to the countryside for a day and half of scientific talks.  This year the retreat at Missenden Abbey in the Chiltern Hills, was held in conjunction with the Natural History Museum and provided the perfect backdrop for researchers to network and develop collaborations and links between the two institutions.

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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

Obituaries: 
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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