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Linda Partridge on How to Live Longer (BBC4)

UCL Institute of Healthy Ageing director Professor Dame Linda Partridge was recently invited to appear on the BBC4 programme ’The Big Think – How to Live Longer’.

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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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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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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.

Researchers:
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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CBER's Tim Newbold awarded prestigious Royal Society University Research Fellowship

Dr Newbold's research seeks to understand how habitat loss and climate change together impact the structure and diversity of ecological communities. Habitat loss and climate change are the biggest threats to biodiversity, but the extent to which they might interact in their impacts on biodiversity remains very poorly understood.

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EMBO Young Investigator Christophe Dessimoz

The EMBO Young Investigator Programme provides support for researchers under forty years of age who have set up their first laboratories in the past four years

Christophe is one of 25 life scientists selected to join the programme this year who join a network of 74 current and 382 past Young Investigators and who represent some of the best young group leaders in the life sciences in Europe and beyond.


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Leverhulme funds to study Phylogenetics of Invasion

The award will support a post-doc in Tim Blackburn’s group, Professor of Invasion Biology, CBER.   The study will seek to untangle evolutionary and human historical contexts in the introduction and spread of alien bird species. 

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Professor Thomas receives 2015-16 Top Teacher award

Throughout the academic year UCL medical students are able to nominate teachers who have been particularly helpful or inspiring to them during their studies for a Top Teacher award. At the end of the academic year, the QAU counts the number of nominations for each teacher and the ones with the most nominations receive an award.  This year, Prof Thomas receives a Top Teacher award for Year 2 Genetics, Development & Cancer.

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Nick Lane Awarded Faraday Medal

Congratulations to Nick Lane on being awarded the 2016 Michael Faraday Prize and Lecture in recognition of his excellent work in communicating science to UK audiences.

Nick will be presented with his medal as part of his prize lecture to be given at the Royal Society in February 2017.

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A federal origin of Stone Age farming

The results of a study carried out by an international team of researchers including GEE/UGI researchers from the Thomas and Hellenthal Groups, found that there were deep genetic differences in early farming populations, indicating very distinct ancestries.
- See more

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Biodiversity falls below ‘safe levels’ globally

A study, published today in Science, led by researchers from UCL, the Natural History Museum and UNEP-WCMC, found that levels of biodiversity loss are so high that if left unchecked, they could undermine efforts towards long-term sustainable development."This is the first time we’ve quantified the effect of habitat loss on biodiversity globally in such detail and we’ve found that across most of the world biodiversity loss is no longer within the safe limit suggested by ecologists” explained lead researcher, Dr Tim Newbold from UCL-CBER and previously at UNEP-WCMC.

Further reading

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PhD success for James Howie

Congratulations to James Howie who successfully passed his PhD viva held on Thursday 19 May. His thesis is on "Female mate choice and male ornamentation in the stalk-eyed fly, Diasemopsis meigenii” and was supervised by Prof. Kevin Fowler and Prof. Andrew Pomiankowski.

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GEE PIs awarded “Sea and Currents” funds for international initiatives

The successful applications were chosen according to how well they fit the criteria: potential for the future, fit with the Global Engagement strategic plan, benefit to UCL and the Faculty and making a difference in some significant way to research, education or other aspects of life. Of the 7 successful applicants from across the Faculty two are in GEE.  

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Georgina Mace has been awarded the 2016 Heineken Prize for Environmental Science

Georgina Mace will receive the Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences for developing scientific criteria for the world’s most comprehensive list of threatened species and for establishing priorities for nature conservation. She made a major contribution to the notion that healthy ecosystems and biodiversity are natural capital that render important services to humans, which is now a central concept in the nature management debate.

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