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Department of Life Sciences Newsletter
December 2017
Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!
Newsletter Archive
Staff Information
Health & Wellbeing
Scientists have identified the genetic mutations that cause sickle cells in deer, according to new research in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. The team of researchers led by Dr Tobias Warnecke from Imperial’s Institute of Clinical Sciences, which included Professor Vincent Savolainen, analysed the genetic make-up of sickled and non-sickled red blood cells (RBCs) in 15 species of deer, and compared them to our current knowledge of how the trait came about in humans. They found that the sickle trait in deer took a different evolutionary path to the trait in humans. Click here to find out more.
The world's rainforests take up extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but their ability to do so is threatened by drought and fragmentation. A team of researchers monitored tens of thousands of trees in over a dozen locations across Borneo, for up to half a century, showing that these forests increased the amount of carbon they stored (their ‘carbon stock’) by 430 kg per hectare per year. Lead author Dr Lan Qie, who conducted the research at the University of Leeds and is now based in the Department of Life Sciences at Silwood Park, said: “Borneo’s remaining rainforests are increasing in size, adding to their already high carbon stocks.' Click here to find out more.
Researchers get their first look at how the toxic protein clusters associated with Parkinson's disease disrupt the membranes of healthy brain cells. The research findings, published in Science and led by researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Cambridge, will help researchers hoping to find a way to stop these agents from entering and damaging cells, leading to new and more effective treatments for the illness. Dr Alfonso De Simone, one of the study’s lead authors, explained: “It is a bit like if you put a piece of extremely hot metal on to a plastic surface. In a fairly short space of time it will burn a hole through the plastic. Click here to find out more.
Scientists have identified a protein involved in the life cycle of the malarial parasite, paving the way for a new vaccine to reduce disease spread. Following a two-year study, researchers at Imperial have unlocked an innovative way to break this vicious circle by inhibiting the parasites’ life cycle at the point of fertilisation. Dr Fiona Angrisano, lead author of the study said: “We’re really encouraged by the initial findings of this study. The fact that we were able to reduce the number of fertilisation events by blocking just a small part of HAP2 is promising, as this could be a cheap and easy target in the search for vaccines that will lower the transmission rates of malaria.” Click here to find out more.
In a surprise ecological finding, researchers discover medium-sized carnivores spend the most time looking for food, making them vulnerable to change. It had been thought that foraging time decreases as animal size increases, but new research by Imperial College London and the ZSL (Zoological Society of London) shows this is not the case. Study co-author Dr Samraat Pawar said: “We propose a simple mathematical model that predicts how foraging time depends on body size. This can help predict potential risks to predators facing environmental change. Click here to find out more.

Welcome to New Staff

Research Assistant
Shengxi Shao (Peter Nixon), Louise Kerry (Gloria Rudenko)

Research Associate (Marie Skolodowksa-Curie Individual Fellow)
Alejandro Couce Iglesias (Martin Buck)

Electron Microscopy Facility Manager
Paul Simpson (Thomas Meier)

Research Technician
Nicole Page (Andrea Crisanti), Charlotte Quinn (Andrea Crisanti)

Research Operations Administrator
Natalie Browne


Lassalle F, Spagnoletti M, Fumagalli M, et al. Oral microbiomes from hunter-gatherers and traditional farmers reveal shifts in commensal balance and pathogen load linked to diet. Mol Ecol. 2017;00:114.

Laur J, Ramakrishnan GB, Labbé C, Lefebvre F, Spanu PD, Bélanger RR Effectors involved in fungal–fungal interaction lead to a rare phenomenon of hyperbiotrophy in the tritrophic system biocontrol agent–powdery mildew–plant. New Phytol (2018) DOI10.1111/nph.14851

Rizzuto M, Carbone C, Pawar S. Foraging constraints reverse the scaling of activity time in carnivores. Nature Ecology & Evolution. 2017 doi:10.1038/s41559-017-0386-1

Qie et al. Long-term carbon sink in Borneo’s forests halted by drought and vulnerable to edge effects. Nature Communications. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-01997-0

Heap LabReview of NAD(P)H-dependent oxidoreductases: Properties, engineering and application -

Prizes and Awards
Rowan Schley (Postgraduate, Silwood Park) won 1st prize for his talk at the Young Systematists Forum held at the Natural History Museum on Friday 1st December.
Other News
Rebecca Short (Postgraduate, Silwood) is currently one of the Reef Conservation UK committee members running the European Coral Reef Symposium held at Oxford University. As part of their work they are promoting sustainable conferencing and gender parity at conferences, plus elimination of single use plastics in line with the #OneLess campaign and Blue Planet II. Find out more at their website:  @ReefConsUK #ECRS2017

Armand Leroi
gave the Crick Christmas Lecture at the Crick Institute on 7th December.
Alekos Simoni was interviewed by Channel4 on a piece about Malaria elimination after the release of the WHO World Malaria Report. The piece was broadcasted on the 2nd December - click here to watch.

Armand Leroi's work on cultural evolution was documented on ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corp)’s weekly radio science & culture programme, Science Friction on Saturday 16th December. Click here to find out more and listen.
Upcoming Events
Thinking about the daycare/nursery to school transition and how to juggle the age old dilemma of having to be in two places at once? Come and chat about this or any other maternity/paternity related issues over a cup of tea or coffee in our drop-in session held by Department Maternity Champion Doryen Bubeck, 10-11am, 11th January, 7th floor SEC common room.

HoD Citizenship Awards
Thanks to all those who attended the HoD Citizenship Awards on Wednesday 20th December. The following staff were recognised for their outstanding contribution to departmental life and culture:

Rochelle Aw
Lucy Barron
Rich Bowman
Allison Hunter
Karen Logan
Serophena Morgan
Julia Schroeder
Steve Swan
Aaron Williams

The following security staff have been awarded for their support to our department:

Marcos Pedrini Costa (SEC reception)
Sue Hemburrow (SAF reception)
John Williams (Silwood security)

Thanks to our UG students who decorated our Christmas tree in the Education Office!

Christmas Quiz
Thanks to all staff and students who attended the Christmas Quiz on Monday 4th December. It was a very successful event which we hope you all enjoyed! Thanks to those who helped organise the quiz!