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March 2019
Newsletter Archive
Staff Information
Health & Wellbeing

When nutrients are dangerously low, a group of bacteria have been found to take the drastic measure of getting rid of their tails.

Some bacteria use tails, or flagella, to swim through liquids – including those in our bodies. However, new research published today in PLOS Biology reveals a surprisingly drastic measure taken by some bacteria when facing starvation: they eject their flagella, leaving themselves paralyzed, but conserving energy so they can stay alive.

The research team, led by Imperial College London in collaboration with researchers from the Francis Crick Institute, the University of Leiden, and Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen, say this is the first time such curious behaviour has been observed in bacteria.

The serendipitous discovery was made when the team were collecting detailed images of the ‘motors’ that drive flagella in a group of bacteria that includes various harmful species, including Vibrio cholerae, which causes cholera.

Lead author Dr Morgan Beeby, from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial, said: “The bacteria’s actions appear to be deliberate. It’s not like when our fingers or toes drop off from frostbite – it’s more a calculated act like mountaineer Aron Ralston cutting off his arm in the film 127 Hours to free himself from under a rock.”

Click here for more

The activity of dozens of genes are changed in bees exposed to pesticides, providing clues as to how these chemicals affect bee brains in the wild.

The finding could provide clues as to why certain pesticides have been linked to bee colony declines.

Exposure to certain pesticides has previously been shown to affect individual bee and colony behaviours, for example affecting their ability to forage and the development of the colony.
The team studied two ‘neonicotinoid’ pesticides, clothianidin and imidacloprid, which are known to be neurotoxic – negatively impacting the nervous system. Both pesticides are still widely used worldwide although they were banned in 2018 for outdoor use by the European Union.

Co-author Dr Richard Gill, from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial, said: “Our work reveals that neurotoxic pesticides not only directly target the cells of the nervous system, but also indirectly affect the normal activity of the exposed organism’s genes.

“Using modern molecular genetic techniques allows us to improve our understanding of pesticide risk to beneficial wildlife, such as bees that are crucial for pollinating many of our crops. It can therefore inform our selection criteria when we decide which pesticides would be better to use in the environment.”

Click here to find out more

Spotting rare species is a feather in the cap for many birdwatchers. But they might need to give their binoculars a clean: people who describe themselves as expert birders are more likely to misidentify common birds as rare and exotic species than those who are more modest about their knowledge.

Julia Schroeder of Imperial College London and her colleagues wanted to check the reliability of wildlife observations produced by citizen science projects. They asked nearly 2700 amateur ornithologists in the UK to identify pictures and drawings of six common species, including the robin, house sparrow and starling.

They were surprised by the results: dozens of self-described experts claimed that some of the common British species depicted were birds only seen in other parts of the world. One confused a starling with the Asian brown flycatcher, more usually found in the Himalayas. Another said a greenfinch was a yellow bunting, which is a rare sight even in its native Japan.

Although the experts did get more answers right overall than people who claimed no expertise, they were much more likely to spot a rarity or a species that has never been reported in Britain among the images. Both the survey title and the introductory text said it was a test to identify common British birds.

Click here to find out more

Scientists have found a way to genetically modify mosquitoes which could help eradicate diseases such as malaria. 

Experts at a top-secret laboratory in Terni, Italy, believe that mutating the female insects' DNA to make them more male – what they call 'a kind of hermaphrodite' – is the answer.

This is because only females have mouths big enough to bite human beings, which continues the spread of infections including Zika and dengue fever. 

Thus, diluting the female characteristics and shrinking the bugs' mouths could make them unable to pass on diseases.

Nearly half the world's population is at risk of malaria, with around 212million cases and 429,000 deaths in 2015 alone, according to the World Health Organization. 

'Malaria is a huge problem affecting probably two-thirds of the world's population,' says Tony Nolan, who helped develop the mosquitoes at Imperial College London.

'There's going to be concerns with any technology. 

'But I don't think you should throw out a technology without having done your best to understand what its potential is to be transformative for medicine. 

'And, were it to work, this would be transformative.' 

Click here to find out more

Aristotle's Biology - BBC Radio 4

Armand Leroi from Life Sciences has been talking about Aristotle: "In Our Time - Aristotle's Biology" BBC R4 - Professor Armand Leroi, from Imperial's Department of Life Sciences, joins Melvyn Bragg to talk about Aristotle's method of biological investigation. Professor Leroi said: "All we have are these works, magnificent and exhaustive in their scope, which seem to spring out of nowhere...somewhere around the time he leaves [Athens] he begins to make this transition from a philosopher in the platonic mould, to something very different, something that looks much more like a modern scientist."

Speaking on his work around the lagoon on the Island of Lesbos, he adds: "Aristotle does biology and he begins to do it empirically...he begins to cut things up and he begins to look at animals..."

Click here to listen 

New research by Imperial researcher Dr Arkhat Abzhanov and his Harvard collaborators looked at crocodile skull shapes in adults, juveniles and embryos, since the changes seen as an animal develops could be critical to explaining the way they evolved.

They found that crocodiles can tweak the timing of certain key points in their skull development, known as heterochrony, leading to the different snout lengths and other aspects of skull shape that match their habitat.

The Abzhanov team now wants to investigate how these changes in developmental timing are regulated by the crocodiles’ genes.

Read the full paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Research Associate
Dr Thomas Clamens (Prof Alain Filloux)

Research Assistant
Ms Rita Colonna (Dr Masahiro Ono), Miss Myriam Haltalli (Dr Morgan Beeby), Dr Christopher Reynolds (Dr Cristina Lo Celso)

Research Technician
Miss Radhika Patel (Dr Nikolai Windbichler), Ms Shamphavi Sivabalasarma (Dr Tolga Bozkurt), Mr Yasin Tumtas (Dr Tolga Bozkurt)

Marketing Executive in Bioinformatics
Mr Omar Rifaie-Graham (Prof Mike Sternberg)

FoNS Prize for Excellence in Personal Tutoring & Pastoral Support
For excellence in the pastoral support of students, including: personal tutoring; mentoring; the introduction of new activities that significantly enhance the life of the undergraduate student body; outstanding service to pastoral care.
Prizes, Awards & Funding

Prof George Christophides and Dr Nikolai Windbichler have been awarded £1M to their current Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant starting in April for 1 year. The grant is to (a) construct and install a portable CL3 insectary that we will use in the field for our malaria transmission experiments and (b) to expand field activities in Tanzania.

The Biochemical Society 2020 Award Winners:

Dr Andrew Hammond one of the two 2020 Early Career Research Awards will be presented to Andrew 

Prof James Barber will be awarded the 2020 Heatley Medal and Prize

Prof Pietro Spanu has been awarded a Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship for 2019-2020. Value: £54K

Dr Giorgio Gilestro was awarded a CRUK Pioneer award as Co-PI
Professors Martin Buck and Steve Matthews have been awarded a research grant from the Leverhulme Trust - Unravelling signaling for CARF domain functioning in RNA end joining. Value: £343k
Congratulations to our recent UG graduate Claire Kanja who has been named winner of the first ever Global Food Security competition ‘Speak Up for Food Security’. Full details are in this article.
Mark Wilkinson was awarded a BBSRC FTMA Innovation placement to go to GSK in Tres Cantos, Madrid (15k for 3 months)
Joss Lyons-White was awarded a Frederick Soddy Postgraduate Award of £5,998 by the Royal Geographical Society for my PhD fieldwork in Liberia
Anais Menny, a postdoc in the Bubeck lab, won the Young Investigator Cover Image Award for her work on the membrane attack complex, which was featured on the cover of the Focus on Complement


Dr Konstantinos Beis:
Crystal structure and epitope analysis of house dust mite allergen Der f 21
Link to paper:

Dr Tanai Cardona Londono:
Thinking twice about the evolution of photosynthesis
Link to paper:
The paper is also featured in the Royal Society Publishing Blog:

Dr Arkhat Abzhanov's group:
Proceedings on The Royal Society B on evolution of diversity in crocodilian skull and snout shapes via changes in timing of their developmental programs. In collaboration with a group at Harvard and was covered by university press both at Harvard and Imperial:

Upcoming conferences
Professor George Christophides is organising 3 international conferences:

- Jacques Monod Conference "Integrated Insect Immunology: Controlling Infections”, 24-28 June 2019, Station Biologique de Roscoff, Roscoff, France (Chair)

- EMBO Workshop "Molecular and population biology of mosquitoes and other disease vectors”, 22–26 July 2019, Kolymbari, Chania, Greece (Chair)

- EMBL Conference “A life for Science - Symposium in memory of Fotis C. Kafatos”, 28-29 August 2019, EMBL Advanced Training Centre, Heidelberg, Germany (co-organiser)

Tech News

Giving a talk:
Allison Hunter S-Lab conference talk on 2 April: Procuring Autoclaves: Lessons from Imperial College

Dr Martin Bidartondo has been elected to the Fungal Biology Research Committee of the British Mycological Society, and selected as Internal Liaisons Officer and representative to the society's Council.
Dr Stephen Chambers has been awarded a Royal Society Entrepreneur in Residence to work with the Dept of Life Sciences and the Centre for Synthetic Biology from 1st April this year for 2 years.

Darwin Day 2019
Dr Arkhat Abzhanov gave a lecture for the Darwin Day at the University of Oslo. This is an annual event celebrating Darwin's birthday and his contributions to biology and it is open to the public.  

It is very well advertised in Norway and online:

This year the topic for Darwin Day was the famous Darwin's Finches, the classical example of evolution by natural selection and there were four lectures: one joint lecture from Rosemary and Peter Grant (Princeton University), Leif Andersson (University of Uppsala) and myself.  These lectures covered the latest and most interesting ecological, genomic and genetic observations on Darwin's finches and evolutionary theory more generally.

Silfest 2019

Officially announcing Silfest 2019! 

This year it will be on 03.08.2019 so get it in your calendars.  

For those who don’t know, Silfest is a big campus festival based in the Silwood campus run by the students, where we’ll have outside bands coming in, plenty of acts from campus, as well as lots of food, drink and fun activities.

 Early bird tickets (which will include a t-shirt, a reusable cup and a wristband) and tent pitches (you will buy a space, but will need to bring your own tent stuff) are now on sale, there’s a limited amount of the early bird ones so get them while you can! All welcome from campus and afar.

Equality and diversity at Imperial College - click here.

By completing this course, you will:

  • know what the College is doing to promote equality and diversity and the important part that you play as an employee
  • know what you can do to personally ensure equality and diversity are embedded into your department/area
  • have an understanding of equality legislation
  • know how you can access further information and training

Recruitment and Selection Training
This course provides the basics of what you need to know before you participate in recruiting and selecting staff. It is designed for non-HR people for whom recruitment is a minor, albeit critical, aspect of their role.
Details of the e-Learning course can be found here
You can also apply for 1 day practical session when you have completed the test at the end of the e-Learning course.

HoD Citizenship Awards

Throughout 2019 we will be showcasing staff who were presented with a HoD Citizenship Award at the end of 2018.

For the month of March we have Giorgio Gilestro...

My current research is aimed at elucidating the enigmatic function(s) of sleep using a combination of neurobiology, genetics, and bioinformatics. Most of the work is carried on using Drosophila melanogaster as the model system.

More about our research, publications, outreach and general lab ethos can be found on the lab webpage.