Genetics, Evolution and Environment


GEE News

New paper from Foukas’ lab

A paper entitled “Enhanced β-adrenergic signalling underlies an age-dependent beneficial metabolic effect of PI3K p110α inactivation in adipose tissue” is published in Nature Communications. The new research sheds light into the so-called ‘insulin paradox’, a long-standing conundrum in the field of the biology of ageing. The ‘insulin paradox’ refers to the phenomenon that loss-of-function mutations in genes encoding components of the Insulin/IGF-1 signalling (IIS) pathway, an essential pathway for the regulation of metabolism, result in extension of lifespan and improved metabolic profile in aged laboratory animals. The paper reports that inactivation of PI3K p110ɑ, a key molecule in the IIS, in the adipose tissue of mice results in enhanced adrenergic signalling, which increases thermogenic energy expenditure. 

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Seirian Sumner awarded grant

Dr Seirian Sumner (CBER) has been awarded a joint NERC-NSF(DEB) grant with US collaborators Dr Amy Toth (Iowa State University, USA), and Dr Sandra Rehan (University of New Hampshire, USA)  worth £800,000, for the grant entitled “The evolutionary genomics of a major transition in evolution”.  The project will support two bioinformatician post-docs (one in CBER and one in the US), and will generate new genomic resources for multiple species of bees and wasps representing different stages in the major transition to eusociality. The grant aims to test whether the major transition to eusociality arises through gradual or punctuated evolutionary processes.

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Health Secretary’s response to polygenic risk score testing strongly criticised

Professor David Curtis has strongly criticised the response of Health Secretary Matt Hancock to his claim that obtaining a polygenic risk score for prostate cancer might have saved his life. Professor Curtis said that he had misinterpreted the implications of the results, had suffered needless anxiety and would be wasting NHS resources by seeking a consultation with his GP about the results. His criticisms were widely reported in the national media.

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Professor David Curtis contributes to guidelines on the use of genetic testing in psychiatry

Professor David Curtis of the UCL Genetics Institute is one of the contributors to a statement on Genetic Testing and Psychiatric Disorders which has been issued by the International Society of Psychiatric Genetics. The statement is intended to give guidance to psychiatrists, patients and their families as well as other healthcare professionals. It reflects the latest advances in research and their implications for the clinical care of patients. Subjects covered include tests used to clarify diagnosis and risk as well as tests used to guide treatment. The statement also addresses broader issues such as ethical implications of testing, direct to consumer (DTC) testing and incidental findings.

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Alien species are primary cause of recent global extinctions

Alien species are the main driver of recent extinctions in both animals and plants, according to a new study by UCL researchers.
The study, published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, used data from the 2017 IUCN Red List on the total numbers of species that are considered to have gone extinct globally since 1500.

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Dr Christophe Dessimoz laureate of the ISCB Overton Prize 2019

Each year with the Overton Prize, the International Society for Computational Biology (ISCB) recognises the outstanding achievements of an early to mid-career scientist who has made a significant contribution to the field of computational biology.
We are pleased to report that the 2019 laureate is Christophe Dessimoz, Associate Professor in Bioinformatics in GEE and Computer Science.

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Dr John Labbadia secures an Academy of Medical Sciences Springboard Award

Congratulations to the IHA’s Dr John Labbadia who has just received an Academy of Medical Sciences Springboard Award.
The award will fund his work using C. elegans genetics, human tissue culture models and high-throughput approaches to understand the interplay between mitochondria, protein quality control and susceptibility to age-associated protein conformational diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's.

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Dr Maria Secrier celebrates a Springboard award success

GEE's Dr Maria Secrier has been awarded a Springboard award from the Academy of Medical Sciences. The grant scheme offers £100K funding as well as mentoring and career development support for investigators starting their first independent position to help launch their research careers. 

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Professor Georgina Mace wins prestigious biodiversity award

We are proud to announce Professor Dame Georgina Mace has received the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in recognition of her pioneering research in biodiversity.
Professor Mace, founding director of the UCL Centre for Biodiversity & Environment Research and UCL Professor of Biodiversity and Ecosystems, was jointly awarded the Ecology and Conservation Biology category of the prize with Professor Gretchen Daily of Stanford University.

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Centre for Ecology and Evolution event: Darwin’s Birthday Debate 2019 "The next stage of Human Evolution"

Speaker 1: Anne Stone - Arizona State University (lab website)
Title: The future of human evolution: we are what we eat if we survive the pathogens we keep?
Abstract: We can gain insight into the future of human evolution by looking at our past. Research in my laboratory focuses on evolutionary history and understanding how humans and other primates have adapted to their environments, including their disease and dietary environments. I will discuss how we use genetic data to understand how diet and disease have shaped our genomes and affected our population history.

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Start: Feb 13, 2019 4:00:00 PM
End: Feb 13, 2019 7:00:00 PM

The Biosciences Patricia Clarke Lecture 2019

Speaker: Professor Irene Miguel-Aliaga - Professor of Genetics and Physiology, Faculty of Medicine, Institute of Clinical Sciences, Imperial College London (research profile)

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Start: Jun 5, 2019 12:00:00 AM
End: Jun 5, 2019 12:00:00 AM

FLS Anne McLaren Lecture and Reception 2019

Speaker: Professor Ashley Moffett - Professor of Reproductive Immunology, Department of Pathology, University of Cambridge (research profile)
Title: "On the Frontier: No Hard Border between the Mother and her Fetus"
Venue: G29 JZ Young LT, Anatomy Building (map)
Talk summary: Professor Moffett will discuss her ground-breaking studies on the genetics, immunology and cell biology of the maternal-fetal interface.
Speaker's biography: Ashley Moffett qualified in medicine from the University of Cambridge and worked as a physician before training as a reproductive pathologist in The Rosie Maternity Hospital in Cambridge. For the last 30 years she has worked on the interactions between maternal uterine cells and placental trophoblast cells that determine placentation and reproductive outcome in humans. She is Emeritus Professor of Reproductive Immunology in the Department of Pathology in Cambridge and holds a Wellcome Trust Joint Investigator Award.

The lecture will be followed by a wine reception – everyone is welcome to come along and meet Professor Moffett.

This event is free but requires registration. Book your place.

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Start: May 13, 2019 3:30:00 PM
End: May 13, 2019 7:00:00 PM

The Division of Biosciences research lectures 2019

The Division of Biosciences is pleased to announce details of the divisional research lectures 2019. This year the presentations will be held in a form of a mini-symposium.

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Start: May 20, 2019 2:00:00 PM
End: May 20, 2019 5:00:00 PM

Neanderthals sprinted in Ice Age woodlands

Neanderthals lived in much warmer climates than previously thought, with bodies that supported sprinting rather than distance running according to a new study co-authored by Professor Mark Thomas and Dr Yoan Diekmann.
The finding challenges the assumption that Neanderthals were a branch of the human family tree that was specifically adapted to cold, open tundra-like environments.

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CBER to represent UCL on the Global Challenges Research Fund 'Hubs' initiative

We are pleased to announce the Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research is a partner on one of the 12 recently awarded Global Challenges Research Fund 'Hubs'. These cross-disciplinary hubs are each receiving around £20 million to look into and address one of the global challenges.
CBER is part of the UKRI GCRF Trade, Development and the Environment (TRADE) Hub, led by the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), which aims to understand the environmental and social costs and benefits of international trade. UCL's contribution to the project will be led by Dr Tim Newbold and Professor Georgina Mace. The funding of around £0.75 million will allow them to support two research staff who will be working on evaluating biodiversity impacts of international trade.

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New spider named after UCL scientist Dr Ben Collen

A newly discovered species of spider, Loureedia colleni, has been named in honour of Dr Ben Collen, an internationally recognised conservation scientist and founder member of the UCL Centre for Biodiversity & Environment Research.

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Dr Lucy van Dorp interviewed by BBC Radio 4 on the genetic legacy of political systems in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Dr Lucy van Dorp, post-doctoral researcher at UCL Genetics Institute, spoke to Dr Adam Rutherford on BBC Radio 4 Inside Science about the genetic legacy of state centralisation in the pre-colonial political system of the Kuba Kingdom, located in what is now the central Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The study, an international five-year collaboration between UCL and economists at Harvard University and published in PNAS, finds that the formation of the Kuba Kingdom into a large-scale and centralised state shaped the DNA of its descendents. Members of the Kuba Kingdom today, called the Kuba, are both more genetically diverse and retain genetic signatures of migration and mixing not detected in neighbouring people. As discussed on Radio 4, this work demonstrates the importance of societal systems in shaping genetic patterns, as well as the utility of genetic analyses to reveal information on historical events, particularly in regions of the world where few written records exist.

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Sue Povey, Emeritus Professor of Human Genetics

It is with great sadness that we inform you of  the passing of Professor Sue Povey MD FMedSci, who was associated with UCL, within the MRC Human Biochemical Genetics Unit  and the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment (and its forerunners), for most of her career.  As Emeritus Professor in Human Genetics, Sue continued her long term research interest into the study of Tuberous Sclerosis with the curation of mutation databases of the two genes responsible, TSC1 and TSC2 until only a few months ago.

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The Ben Collen Memorial Lecture - 4 March 2019

The Ben Collen Memorial Lecture is an annual event at which UCL’s Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research hosts a world-leading, mid-career scientist in the field of conservation biology. The lecture is in honour of Dr Ben Collen who was a renowned conservation scientist and greatly admired colleague. Ben died in 2018 aged 40.

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Start: Mar 4, 2019 5:30:00 PM
End: Mar 4, 2019 6:30:00 PM

Congratulations to Dr Kerri Kinghorn who has been awarded a Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Career Development Fellowship

Dr Kerri Kinghorn, a UCL Excellence Fellow in the Institute of Healthy Ageing, has been awarded a five-year Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Development Fellowship. This will enable her to establish her own research group to study the ‘Endolysosomal trafficking defects in Parkinson’s disease’ using Drosophila and neuronal models.
Please join us in congratulating Dr Kinghorn for her outstanding achievement.

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Congratulations to Dr Jack Humphrey for successfully passing his viva

Please join us in congratulating Dr Jack Humphrey, MRC Clinical Neuroscience PhD student, for successfully passing his viva on 14 December. His project was jointly supervised by Dr Vincent Plagnol from the UCL Genetics Institute, Professor Adrian Isaacs, and Dr Pietro Fratta, both at the UCL Institute of Neurology.

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GEE student from the Gems lab receives funding award from Doctoral School to host the CLeanTech Challenge, a UCL-LBS initiative

Carina Kern, PhD Student in Professor David Gems lab and Scientific Chair of the CleanTech Challenge (CTC) has successfully been awarded a contribution from the UCL Doctoral School to help fund the 2019 CTC Competition. Matched funding will be contributed by the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship London Business School and a small contribution was made by the Graduate Tutors from GEE.

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GEE student receives the 2018 Publisher's Award for Excellence in Systematic Research

Dr Konstantinos Angelis, a PhD student from Professor Ziheng Yang's group, has won the 2018 Publisher's Award for Excellence in Systematic Research from the Society of Systematic Biology, for his paper published in the journal Systematic Biology. The full list of recent and past winners of the award can be found on the Society of Systematic Biologists website.
The award, sponsored by Systematic Biology's publisher, is presented to the two best papers based on student research published in Systematic Biology during the previous year. The lead author must be a student at the time the research is conducted. The Publisher's Award is $US 500 and is presented at the annual meeting to the student authors. The winner is selected by a committee consisting of the President and the Editor.
Kostas graduated in 2016 and has been working with GlaxoSmithKline.

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Monitoring urban biodiversity with machine learning

A new algorithm developed by UCL academics to monitor biodiversity in urban environments could improve our understanding of how cities can best support plant and animal life.

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Another GEE PhD viva success – congratulations to Dr Filip Ruzicka!

Please join us in congratulating Dr Filip Ruzicka, London NERC DTP student supervised by Dr Max Reuter and Professor Kevin Fowler, for successfully passing his viva on 27 November.
His thesis "The genetics and evolutionary dynamics of sexually antagonistic polymorphisms in Drosophila melanogaster" was examined by Professor Göran Arnqvist (Uppsala University) and Professor Mark Thomas.

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Congratulations to Dr Jeremy Levy

Congratulations to Dr Jeremy Levy, CoMPLEX student supervised by Dr Christophe Dessimoz and Professor Max Telford, for successfully passing his viva on 13 November. Jeremy's thesis "Computational Methods to Resolve Deep Species Phylogenies" was examined by Professor Antonis Rokas (Vanderbilt University) and Professor Richard Mott.
We wish Jeremy all the best in his future endeavours!

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GEE Friday Seminar Series - Dr Maria Secrier

Title: "Deciphering mutational histories of oesophageal cancer from whole genomes of tumours and organoid cultures"
Speaker: Dr Maria Secrier (research profile)
Venue: Watson LT, Medawar Building (map)
Abstract: Oesophageal adenocarcinoma is a highly heterogeneous cancer with limited treatment options and dismal outcome. I will discuss our recent efforts to understand the developmental trajectories of this cancer based on mutational footprints induced by distinct risk factors of the disease, which can be inferred computationally from whole-genome sequencing data. I will focus on a recent study where 3D cell models of oesophageal adenocarcinoma called ‘organoids’ were grown in vitro by sampling cells from patients’ tumours. We showed that these organoids effectively recapitulate the genomic and transcriptomic profiles of the tumours of origin, and thus constitute a suitable in vitro model for this cancer type. By tracking the evolution of mutational processes during organoid culture growth we were also able to demonstrate a dynamic clonal architecture that mimics well the extensive intratumour heterogeneity observed in this cancer. Finally, we suggest that the observed genomic signatures could be further exploited for patient stratification in the clinic.

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Start: Nov 23, 2018 1:00:00 PM
End: Nov 23, 2018 2:00:00 PM

Congratulations to Dr Tom Evans for successfully passing his viva

Please join us in congratulating Dr Tom Evans (Blackburn lab in CBER) who successfully passed his viva on 31 October. His thesis “Quantifying and categorising the environmental impacts of alien birds” was examined by Professor Helen Roy from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), an expert in alien species and their impacts, and Dr Seirian Sumner, from CBER, and was passed with no corrections.

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Centre for Ecology and Evolution event: Wallmas 2018

Come and join Centre for Ecology and Evolution (CEE) celebrate the life and work of Alfred Russell Wallace (and Christmas). This year the CEE Wallmas event will be held at the Jodrell Laboratory, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

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Start: Dec 1, 2018 1:00:00 PM
End: Dec 1, 2018 5:00:00 PM

Congratulations to Dr Adam Britton

Please join us in congratulating Dr Adam Britton (Dr Julia Day lab) who successfully passed his viva on 5 November. His thesis “Assessing human impacts on Lake Tanganyika cichlid fish communities” was examined by Professor Martin Genner from University of Bristol, an expert in the evolution and ecology of cichlid fishes, and Dr Alex Pigot, GEE a Royal Society Research Fellow.
Adam is now working as a marine scientist for the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). We wish him every success in his future career.

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PI Presents PhD Series - 16 November 2018

CDB is launching a new series called "PI Presents PhD" where CDB PIs and guest PIs talk about their life as a PhD student. Each will be sharing their remarkable PhD journey: the difficult times as well as fun moments. The first PI to take on this challenge is Jason Rihel.
All PhD students, Postdocs as well as PIs are welcome.

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Start: Nov 16, 2018 5:00:00 PM
End: Nov 16, 2018 6:00:00 PM

How drug resistant TB evolved and spread globally

The most common form of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB) originated in Europe and spread to Asia, Africa and the Americas with European explorers and colonialists, reveals a new study led by UCL and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

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Careers Seminar for Postdocs and PhD Students

Talk title: Building a strong foundation for a career in academia
Speaker: Professor Patricia Salinas
Venue: H O Schild Pharmacology LT, Medical Sciences Building (map)

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Start: Oct 16, 2018 4:00:00 PM
End: Oct 16, 2018 5:00:00 PM

British Ecological Society Practice Talks

Speaker 1: Dr Tim Newbold
Title: “Interactive effects of land-use and climate change on bumblebee biodiversity in North America and Europe”

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Start: Dec 3, 2018 1:00:00 PM
End: Dec 3, 2018 2:00:00 PM

Why do we love bees but hate wasps?

New study by the Sumner lab reveals that wasps are universally disliked by the public and this is most likely due to a low-level interest in nature and a lack of knowledge about the benefits wasps bring to our planet’s health and function.

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CEE Autumn Symposium

CEE’s Autumn Symposium 2018 will highlight the diverse array of research conducted by CEE members and provide opportunities for discussion and mingling to foster collaborations across CEE institutions.

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Start: Sep 28, 2018 1:00:00 PM
End: Sep 28, 2018 7:00:00 PM

New paper by the Gems lab throws new light on senescence causes

The study, published in Current Biology and funded by Wellcome, shows that normal biological processes which are useful early on in life, continue to ‘run-on’ pointlessly in later life causing age-related diseases.

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New study co-authored by CBER’s Fiona Spooner and Richard Pearson identifies global warming rate as a critical factor behind birds and mammals population declines

For the study, published in Global Change Biology, 987 populations of 481 species across the globe were studied to investigate how the rate of climate change and land-use change (from natural to human-dominated landscapes) interact to affect the rate of decline on mammals and birds, as well as whether species located in protected areas and body size had an influence.
The rate at which our climate is warming was found to be the best explanation for the observed rate of population declines.

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Senior Promotions 2018

Congratulations to all colleagues whose achievements have been recognised in the most recent round of Senior Promotions. This year has been exceptional in terms of the number of applications received and successful promotions. We proudly present a list of Divisional promotees:

Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment

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Congratulations to Dr Eloi Camprubi

Please join us in congratulating Dr Eloi Camprubi, who last week completed his PhD thesis on “The beginnings of proto-metabolism at the origin of life in alkaline hydrothermal vents”.

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CBER Research Talk - Dr Ikechukwu Eugene Onah - 23 July 2018

Title: Integrative taxonomy: approach to documenting bees and Polistine wasps of Nigeria
Speaker: Dr Ikechukwu Eugene Onah - Lecturer I in Entomology, Department of Zoology and Environmental Biology, University of Nigeria Nsukka (research profile)
Host: Dr Seirian Sumner (email)
Watson LT, Medawar Building (map)
Abstract: Globally, biodiversity is declining as a result of habitat degradation and this could lead to extinction of some species before they are discovered. My research employs integrative taxonomy to reliably identify and document bees and Polistine wasps of Nigeria, about which hardly anything is known. Comprehensive data on these ecosystem servicers are lacking and this is an impediment to effective conservation and harnessing of the natural capital that these species offer.  It is hoped that availability of these data will in addition enable other applied biologists to further studies on these important, but largely overlooked, species.

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Start: Jul 23, 2018 1:00:00 PM
End: Jul 23, 2018 2:00:00 PM

CBER Research Talk - Judith Ament - 17 September 2018

Title: "Predicting mammal abundance trends under climate and land-cover change"
Judith Ament - PhD candidate, Centre for Biodiversity & Environment Research (UCL) and Institute of Zoology (ZSL)
Host: Dr Alex Pigot (email)
Lankester LT, Medawar Building (map)
Abstract: To better understand biodiversity consequences of global change scenarios, models are needed that can accurately predict biodiversity trends over large areas. Habitat suitability models provide one approach to this challenge, by inferring species abundance trends from changes in the extent of suitable habitat for different species from land-use time series. Thus far however, this approach ignored population density dynamics over space and time within the extent of suitable habitat. Recently, a new set of regression models has been developed which allows prediction of wildlife population density estimates from life history traits and environmental covariates directly. In this talk I will present my recent work on combining habitat suitability models with population density models, conducted during the Young Scientists Summer Program at the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna.

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Start: Sep 17, 2018 1:00:00 PM
End: Sep 17, 2018 2:00:00 PM

CLOE Research Talk - Dr Jeff Thompson - 4 July 2018

Title: "Unravelling the early evolution of sea urchins: Mass extinction, gene regulatory networks and the origin of the crown group echinoids"
Speaker: Dr Jeff Thompson - University of Southern California
Host: Dr Paola Oliveri. Please note: J. Thompson will be around the whole day. Please email Paola if you want to meet with Jeff.
Venue: Room 114, Darwin Building

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Start: Jul 4, 2018 2:00:00 PM
End: Jul 4, 2018 3:00:00 PM

Public PhD Viva - Dr Juan Camilo Chacón-Duque - 24 July 2018

Please join us for Dr Juan Camilo Chacón-Duque’s Public Viva and party following the award of his PhD degree supervised by Dr Garrett Hellenthal and Professor Andrés Ruiz-Linares

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Start: Jul 24, 2018 4:00:00 PM
End: Jul 24, 2018 5:00:00 PM

UCL memorial event for Dr Ben Collen - 11 July 2018

Friends and colleagues are invited to gather to remember Ben Collen in the Haldane Room at UCL, 12.30pm 11 July. The UCL flag will be lowered over the main quad and colleagues will say a few words of tribute. A buffet lunch will be provided. Mostly, we hope this will be an opportunity for a wide set of Ben’s friends to meet informally and share their memories. Colleagues from outside UCL are very warmly invited.

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Start: Jul 11, 2018 12:00:00 PM
End: Jul 11, 2018 3:00:00 PM

Dr Richard Pearson receives prestigious ZSL Scientific Medal

ZSL’s Scientific Medal is awarded to research scientists with up to 15 years postdoctoral experience for distinguished work in Zoology. CBER’s Richard Pearson was awarded the medal for outstanding contributions to the study of the impacts of climate change on biodiversity.

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New study co-authored by Professor Helen Chatterjee looks into a new gibbon genus discovered in ancient Chinese tomb

The tomb, first excavated in 2004, was found to contain 12 burial pits with animal remains, which included gibbon bones. Sophisticated computer modelling reveals that these ancient bones represent an entirely new genus and species of gibbon, which the team has named Junzi imperialis. Historical records reveal that Junzi probably survived until less than 300 years ago.

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New paper by CBER’s Tim Newbold identifies climate change as major threat to global biodiversity

The new study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, shows that the effects of climate change on ecological communities are predicted to match or exceed land use in its effects on vertebrate community diversity by 2070, and surpass the effects of historical land use.
The findings suggest that efforts to minimise human impact on global biodiversity should now take both land use and climate change into account instead of just focusing on one over the other, as the combined effects are expected to have significant negative effects on the global ecosystem.

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Professor Kate Jones discusses how some bats, dolphins and other animals emit sounds at high frequencies to explore their environments, rather than sight with Melvyn Bragg.

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Congratulations to Dr Lara Meade

Please join us in congratulating Dr Lara Meade who last week completed her PhD thesis “Fitness consequences of sex-ratio meiotic drive and female multiple mating in a stalk-eyed fly, Teleopsis dalmanni”.

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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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CLOE Symposium: Species Interactions in Evolution

Speaker 1: Dr Kayla King - Associate Professor in Parasite Biology, University of Oxford (research profile)
Talk title: “Killers and protectors: rapid microbial evolution across the parasite-mutualist continuum”

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Start: Sep 20, 2018 4:00:00 PM
End: Sep 20, 2018 6:00:00 PM

CLOE Symposium: Evolution in Cell Lineages

Speaker 1: Professor Charles Swanton - Crick Institute (research profile)
Talk title: “Tracking cancer evolution: adaptation, immune evasion and metastases through chromosomal chaos and order”

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Start: Jun 20, 2018 4:00:00 PM
End: Jun 20, 2018 7:00:00 PM

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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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

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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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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Inspire 4 Nature: 15 PhD positions open

Join a unique training programme at the interface between academic excellence and the world of international biodiversity conservation organisations!

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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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CLOE Symposium on Radiations

Speaker 1: Graham Shields - Earth Sciences (research profile)
Talk title: Co-evolution of life and oxygen during the Cambrian radiations

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Start: Mar 22, 2018 4:00:00 PM
End: Mar 22, 2018 5:30:00 PM

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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"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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BBSRC will fund project to uncover proteins and cellular processes important for ageing in fission yeast

Ageing is highly complex and affected by diverse proteins and processes. Modern biological assays can simultaneously measure properties and interactions of thousands of proteins or genes, but it is challenging to make sense of such large datasets. Advances in computational data-analysis methods, called ‘machine learning’, provide exciting opportunities to get the most from large biological datasets and thus increase our understanding of complex processes like ageing. This interdisciplinary project involving three UCL Departments, led by Jürg Bähler in collaboration with Christine Orengo and John Shawe-Taylor, will use fission yeast as a genetic model organism, together with multi-step machine learning, to comprehensively identify biological processes with fundamental importance for ageing.

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GEE's Dr Johnathan Labbadia publishes paper in Cell Reports suggesting that low levels of mitochondrial stress can have beneficial effects on protein folding and ageing

The ability to react to, and counter, the deleterious effects of protein folding stress is crucial for cells to function optimally. As cells age, the capacity to prevent protein misfolding and aggregation declines, driving cell dysfunction and tissue degeneration in adulthood. At present, little is known about the factors that regulate this phenomenon. Therefore, identifying pathways that promote or suppress protein aggregation with age could help identify new ways to maintain tissue function later in life. Using the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans, Labbadia and colleagues have found that low levels of mitochondrial stress early in life can suppress age-related protein misfolding in the cytosol, thereby enhancing cell robustness, and preserving tissue function with age. These effects are dependent on the conserved transcription factor HSF-1, suggesting that during times of adversity, mitochondria can communicate with the cytosolic protein quality control machinery to boost protein folding capacity and promote long-term health.

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Darwin gets festive with sciency baubles

The Darwin Common Room Christmas tree Xmas Bauble competition fired the imagination of some of our more creative researchers and there were some great entries to decorate our tree with this year.

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A new lineage of eukaryotes discovered by Jan Janouškovec at UCL GEE and coauthors

The origin of eukaryotes is tied to outstanding questions about how mitochondrial endosymbionts became integrated within them. A new study by researchers from UCL and universities in Canada, USA and Russia, describes a novel flagellated microbe (Ancoracysta), which represents its own lineage in the eukaryotic tree and provides original insights into mitochondrial evolution. Ancoracysta possesses one of the most gene-rich mitochondrial genome ever found and, uniquely, two indepedent systems for mitochondrial cytochrome c biogenesis. Analysing these characteristics across the eukaryotic domain refines scenarios for rooting the tree of eukaryotes and suggests that gene transfer from mitochondria has been highly parallel and exponentially decreasing in nature.

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Leverhulme to fund study to identify and analysis speciation genes in yeast

Different species are defined as groups that do not exchange genes. Even when viable hybrids can form, gene flow between species may nevertheless be prevented if genes from different species are incompatible, preventing hybrids from reproducing. The Leverhulme Trust has funded a project led by Duncan Greig (research profile) to identify such “speciation genes” causing sexual sterility  in yeast hybrids. The project will use genetic manipulation to generate recombinant hybrid genomes with compatible and incompatible combinations of two species genes. Sequencing many recombinant hybrid genomes will reveal the locations and identities of yeast speciation genes.

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GEE and NPP exceed the Russell group average in the National Student Survey 2017

We are proud to announce that Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment and School of Pharmacy exceeded the Russell group average for “academic support” in the most recent NSS Survey. Similarly, Department of Neuroscience, Physiology & Pharmacology excelled in “teaching”.

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IHA Seminar - Dr Alexei Maklakov - 27 November 2017

Title: Why do we age: linking evolutionary causes with proximate mechanisms
Speaker: Dr Alexei Maklakov - University of East Anglia (lab page)
Host: Dr Jennifer Lohr (email)
Venue: Darwin B15 (map)

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Start: Nov 27, 2017 1:00:00 PM
End: Nov 27, 2017 2:00:00 PM

UGI Weekly Science meeting – 3 October 2018

Title: "The landscape of coadaptation in Vibrio parahaemolyticus"
Dr Daniel Falush - Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Bath (profile)
Venue: Malet Place Engineering Building 1.03 (map)
Professor Francois Balloux (email)

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Start: Oct 3, 2018 3:00:00 PM
End: Oct 3, 2018 4:00:00 PM

UGI Weekly Science meeting – 26 September 2018

Title: "Estimating heritability without environmental bias"
Dr Alexander Young - Post-Doctoral Researcher at deCODE Genetics and the Big Data Institute, University of Oxford (personal website)
Venue: G02 Watson LT, Medawar Building (map)
Professor Richard Mott (email)

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Start: Sep 26, 2018 3:00:00 PM
End: Sep 26, 2018 4:00:00 PM

UGI Science Meeting+ Series: Dr Na Cai

Title: Lessons from genetic studies on major depressive disorder (MDD)
Speaker: Dr Na Cai - European Bioinformatics Institute, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute (research profile)
Venue: Malet Place 1.03 LT (map)

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Start: Mar 27, 2019 3:00:00 PM
End: Mar 27, 2019 4:00:00 PM

UGI Science Meeting+ Series: Dr Florencia Camus

The UCL Genetics Institute is proud to announce a new series of talks, taking place at the last Wednesday every month at the UCL main campus. We aim to highlight the work of outstanding junior researchers within fields related to genetics.

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Start: Jan 30, 2019 3:00:00 PM
End: Jan 30, 2019 4:00:00 PM

Official launch of CLOE

November 2nd 2017 was the official launch of the UCL Centre for Life’s Origins and Evolution.

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UGI welcomes Dr Maria Secrier

UCL Genetics Institute is delighted to welcome Dr Maria Secrier, the new Lecturer in Computational Biology.

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GEE Friday Seminar Series - Dr Marc Williams - 27 April 2018

Speaker: Dr Marc Williams, Queen Mary University of London (profile)
Title: Quantifying evolution in human cancers with genomics
Abstract: High throughput genomics has shown that tumours across all cancer types are highly heterogeneous, to the point that each cell may potentially be genetically unique. In single samples of cancers that have been subjected to high depth sequencing this heterogeneity manifests itself as mutations at different variant allele frequencies (VAF), that is some mutations are present in a high proportion of cells in the tumour, others in lower proportions.
Using a mathematical model of tumour evolution together with Bayesian statistical inference we show how these VAF distributions (equivalent to the site frequency spectrum in population genetics) encode the underlying evolutionary processes in tumour growth. This allows us to measure the mutation rate, the fitness advantage and the time of emergence of sub-populations which are selected for during tumour growth. We observed that such sub populations had strikingly high fitness advantages (>20%) and emerged early (within the first 15 tumour doublings). Taken together, these measurements allow for predicting how the cancer genome is expected to change over time with potential important applications in rationalizing sampling and treatment strategies.

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Start: Apr 27, 2018 1:00:00 PM
End: Apr 27, 2018 2:00:00 PM

GEE Friday Seminar Series - Jim Nabisco - 17 November 2017

Title: Integrated analyses of molecular, morphological, and bioacoustic data for species delimitation of an insular amphibian
Speaker: Jim Nabisco, Teaching Fellow
Venue: Medawar G02 Watson LT (map)

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Start: Nov 17, 2017 1:00:00 PM
End: Nov 17, 2017 2:00:00 PM

GEE Friday Seminar Series - Emeline Favreau & Carlos Martinez Ruiz - 2 March 2018

Speaker 1: Emeline Favreau - School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Queen Mary University of London
Title: Are supergenes required for intra-specific variation of social organisation?
Abstract: Social insects are highly successful, while maintaining an incredible range of variations in social organisation. While theory explains the costs and benefits of different forms of social organisation, the molecular basis of such variation remains largely unknown for most of those species.
We focus on the convergent evolution of a fundamental social trait, the number of reproductive queens in a colony. Some ant species display a clear social dimorphism, with two distinct colony types: single-queen colonies and multiple-queen colonies. Two phylogenetically distant ant species have independently evolved supergene regions associated with these social forms. In each species, a pair of non-recombining ‘social chromosomes’ determines whether a colony contains a single queen or multiple queens.
Here, we test whether a supergene is required for social dimorphism in a third, unrelated lineage, where social dimorphism convergently evolved. We are creating a reference genome using long-read sequencing and will perform a genome-wide study comparing social types to determine if this species also carries a social chromosome system. The results will shed light on the molecular constraints underlying convergent evolution of major social phenotypes.

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Start: Mar 2, 2018 1:00:00 PM
End: Mar 2, 2018 2:00:00 PM

GEE Friday Seminar Series - Jasmine Ono - 16 February 2018

Title: Genetics of adaptation in experimental populations of yeast
Speaker: Jasmine Ono, Dr Duncan Greig lab
Venue: G02 Watson LT, Medawar Building (map)

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Start: Feb 16, 2018 1:00:00 PM
End: Feb 16, 2018 2:00:00 PM

The relentless rise of migration in Europe over last 10,000 years - a new study led by researchers from GEE, University of Cambridge and King’s College London

Three major pulses of increased mobility in Europe over the last 10,000 years and a general upward trend in migration have been uncovered in a new study led by researchers from UCL, University of Cambridge and King’s College London.
The new method, published in PNAS, allows, for the first time, to directly quantify changes in prehistoric migration rates using ancient genetic data over the last 30,000 years.

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Congratulations to Helen Robertson

Please join us in congratulating Helen who has passed her PhD viva. Helen, who is part of Max Telford’s lab, successfully defended her thesis entitled ‘Molecular approaches for studying the evolution of the Xenacoelomorpha’.

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UCL-led ‘Museums on Prescription’ wins health awards

A UCL and Canterbury Christ Church University-led project ‘Museums on Prescription’ has won two prestigious Royal Society of Public Health Awards for ‘Health & Wellbeing’ and ‘Arts and Health’, with a special commendation for ‘Sustainable Development’.

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How $14 billion protected Earth's species

Study involving Dr David Redding shows how billions of dollars of financial investment in global conservation has significantly reduced biodiversity loss.

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Philanthropic Donation to the Institute of Healthy Ageing

David Gems’s research group is delighted to announce the receipt of a philanthropic donation from the entrepreneur and writer Jim Mellon, chairman of Burnbrae. This donation (~£100K) will allow the purchase of a new structured illumination microscope system (Zeiss Apotome) which will be used in studies of ageing in animal models, particularly the development of senescent pathologies. This lovely instrument with its technical innovations will significantly enhance the capacity of research at the Institute of Healthy Ageing to understand the causes of ageing.

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CBER's contribution to WWF’s conservation technology

CBER’s Rory Gibb and Ella Browning (under Kate Jones’ guidance) wrote and provided guidelines for the World Wildlife Fund on best practice on using the audio and camera trap data. This information is crucial for new researchers or external companies who are investing in such technology or using it to make informed decisions with nature at the forefront. Please visit WWF's website for further information.
WWF is the world’s leading independent conservation organisation.

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Seminar - Dr Richard Durbin - 1 November 2017

Title: Whole genome sequence approaches to vertebrate evolution
Speaker: Dr Richard Durbin - Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute (research profile)
Host: Professor Richard Mott (email)
Venue: Malet Place Engineering 1.03 (map)
Abstract: Over the last 20 years genome sequences have provided a powerful entry point for functional genetics.  However, they are also the product of evolution, and by comparing them between individuals, populations and species we can make inferences about evolutionary history.  I will give examples of methods and applications both from my work on human genetic variation and more recent work on East African cichlid fishes, which form the most dramatic vertebrate adaptive evolutionary radiation.  Finally, looking forwards I will argue that we are just at the dawn of the application of genome sequence to understanding evolution

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Start: Nov 1, 2017 12:00:00 PM
End: Nov 1, 2017 1:00:00 PM

UCL Science Society meeting - Professor Frances Edwards - 11 March 2019

Title: "Alzheimer's disease; from mouse to man?"
Speaker: Professor Frances Edwards - Professor of Neurodegeneration, Department of Neuroscience Physiology and Pharmacology, UCL (research profile)
Venue: Pre-talk refreshments - 5.30pm Garden Room, Wilkins Building (map)
Talk - 6pm G06 Sir Ambrose Fleming LT, Roberts Building (map)

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Start: Mar 11, 2019 5:30:00 PM
End: Mar 11, 2019 8:00:00 PM

UGI welcomes Dr Aida Andres

UCL Genetics Institute is pleased to welcome Dr Aida Andres, the new Senior Lecturer in Evolutionary Genetics.

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