Is this PhD my dream Job?

I love cows, dairy cows to be exact, and that’s not meant to sound weird at all, I promise… I am doing my dream job, but the first Monday back after the Christmas break was still the hardest.

I am currently studying a PhD in dairy cow nutrition. I specifically look at faecal matter, poo, crap, excrement, sh*t (insert your own slang where appropriate). I am interested in what a dairy cow really thinks of her diet, and seeing how she can’t tell me, I have to dig a little deeper. Most people assume (rightly) that milk yield from dairy cows determines her opinion on her fodder: more food eaten means more milk. However, I want to know what her endocrine system thinks and what affect does that have on digestion. Faecal samples provide a medium where I can measure things like stress, intake and digestion. It’s complicated, ground breaking stuff! Or at least that’s what I am telling myself ;).

poo laura

Getting out of bed that first Monday morning back, was not easy. I had so much data to analyse, lab work to do, papers to write and goodness knows what else. Christmas break was an actual break, as I figured the last 9 months of my PhD are going to be break free.

I can’t moan, thinking back to my first year of my PhD (I’m a third year now), I had a non-working methodology – therefore no results and a general hated for life. Nothing in my former education could have prepared me for the rollercoaster of the first year of my PhD. This PhD stress is a far cry from the relatively stress free world of my bachelor’s degree in Animal science, my masters degrees, oh and my job (which I did for 2 years).

A PhD throws you from every high to every low and back again.

Image: Jorge Cham, The Stanford Daily

Image: Jorge Cham, The Stanford Daily

My job got me a piece in the newspaper... the perks of my unglamorous job ;)

My job got me a piece in the newspaper… the perks of my unglamorous job 😉

Do I regret anything? Not at all, with every low comes a high, and scientific highs are addictive. Getting methods working, seeing results, writing papers, and attending conferences all around the world. They are just some of the addictive traits of PhD life. All this whilst potentially making a scientific difference – there is no better way of to wind a week away. That’s what got me out of bed that first Monday after Christmas, remembering I am very lucky to be studying a PhD and to be making a difference in the dairy world. Not many can say that…

Of course, it still took a few coffees to get me going, and of course, they were made with only the best of British milk, from the best of the British bovine Ladies :).

 

 

I am now into February and not much has changed, bar my stress levels, they seem only to go up. I am making progress though, and I celebrate the little victories often… it keeps you sane, oh and gin… that helps too.

Laura

The University of Nottingham

@laurajaynetenna

 

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News Round-Up January 2016

Hello, and welcome to the #bioscinews round-up! This is the place where you can find all the important biosci new stories from the past week, in a short, digestible paragraph.

The start of the year is always a busy one, with having to settle back into work/studies and coming to terms with the fact that the next major holiday is months and months away (weep), so hence this post will be a whole month’s news round up instead of a weekly news round-up. We shall get back to the weekly news round-ups next week! Until then, enjoy what January had to offer…

This month’s news

The mummified remains of “Ötzi the Iceman” were originally found in the Austrian alps in 1991, but continue to provide fascinating insights into the lives of the Chalcolithic Europeans. These Europeans lived during the Copper Age, the beginning of the Bronze Age, around 3000-5000 years ago. The most recent study to focus on Ötzi has revealed that, at the time of his death, he had a strain of the Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria in his stomach. H. pylori is linked to severe inflammation in the digestive system and can lead to certain cancers. However, it does not match the strain which currently tends to inhabit European stomachs. The authors suggest this may reveal new findings concerning human migration patterns at the time and, while the discovery is exciting, caution must be taken when drawing conclusions from a single data point.

sn-iceman

In further human evolution news, there may be links between Neanderthals and our immune systems. Comparisons between human (Homo sapiens) and Neanderthal genomes has suggested that some of our immunological genes came from interbreeding with Neanderthals. These genes – known as the Toll like receptor family – are important for our innate immune system, which initially mounts a defensive response to pathogens. The innate immune system is also largely involved in allergic responses. So, thank our predecessors for our ability to respond to infections rapidly, but you can also silently curse them next time your hay fever acts up!

Neanderthals-diginean3

In some slightly stranger insect-related news, to confirm that praying mantises do see in 3D and to create a system to confirm the same in other insects, scientists from the UK and France have created 3D glasses for insects. The glasses are similar to the red-green plastic system that was commonly used in the 80’s and 90’s for movies, but different colours were used. Since insects’ eyes are sensitive to different wavelengths than human eyes, the authors used green and blue plastic lenses instead of the traditional red and blue. While this is a strange set-up for sure, maybe it will help us learn more about insect vision in the near future! The images are pretty cool to look at too…

Newcastle University research into 3D vision in praying mantises by Dr. Vivek Nityananda. Pic: Mike Urwin. 151015

Newcastle University research into 3D vision in praying mantises by Dr. Vivek Nityananda.
Pic: Mike Urwin. 151015

Explaining the evolutionary origins of life is still an active pursuit by biologists, but we now have more insight into how life became multicellular. In order to become a multicellular organism, some form of organisation is required. For this, cells take advantage of some structures involved in cell division, the mitotic spindles. These are fibres which are involved in separating the chromosomes (or DNA) of cells when they replicate and divide. Recent work has helped to explain how this complex system was adapted into a system to help organise multicellular life. A single mutation seems to be responsible, for co-opting this system of cellular organisation into one for organismal organisation. The article is rather technical, but is an excellent example of evolutionary modifications.

Unravelling multicellularity

Scientists have always been interested in the diversity of lifeforms on Earth, and this month a new interesting puzzle was discovered. Often, the same genetic background can result in many different body forms (called phenotypic plasticity), but this worm puts other phenotypically plastic organisms to shame. It produces five different forms from the same genes! The worms are often found in figs, and now we know they have five different physical forms depending on which species of fig they inhabit.

Five in one

Antibiotic resistance is a problem our news digests have covered before, and this issue continues to concern scientists and medical professionals the world over. Nanoparticles are tiny particles which have been considered for use against bacteria previously, but they have some issues: they are not cell selective. So, if you were to treat a patient with specific nanoparticles that can ‘destroy’ foreign cells, they would also destroy their own cells, which is of course not a good way to treat a bacterial infection. Recent work, however, shows promise in designing more specific nanoparticles to specifically target bacterial cells and leave our own healthy cells undamaged. Hopefully nanoparticles can be added to our arsenal against bacterial infections some time soon!

Nanoparticles help target antibiotic resistant bacteria

We all probably know by now that we are host to many organisms apart from ourselves, from beneficial bacteria, to mites in our eyelashes. But maybe you haven’t given much thought to who you share your house with? Well, these scientists were curious about what might be lurking about the average house. They surveyed 50 different houses in California and found a remarkable diversity of Arthropods (the Phylum which includes insects), with up to 200+ species in a single house! But don’t worry, the most abundant arthropods found were all completely harmless.

You're never really home alone...

At school, we all learned that lizards and other reptiles were cold-blooded, that is, they need to absorb heat from their environment as they do not produce their own bodily heat like humans do. But, I guess we also all learned that, at some point in life, that there is always an exception to every rule. Well, we’ve finally found the exception to the cold-blooded lizards. The Tegu lizard, native to South America, has been found to produce some bodily heat in certain seasons. We don’t know how they do this yet, but it has been suggested that they increase the activity of certain organs, like the heart or the liver, to produce extra heat during the breeding season. The more in depth we study nature, the more strange and fascinating it gets!

Warm Blooded Reptiles

Our final news story for the month is potentially very exciting for age-related blindness. Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) is a gradual blindness that progresses with age, and current treatments only manage to slow the decline in vision. We know which gene is responsible for this condition, but so far, efforts to restore the function of this gene have not been very successful. Some new work making use of CRISPR gene editing technology may provide some hope however. Previous gene therapy efforts have focused on introducing some separate functional copy of the gene in question, but often this replacement copy degrades over time and the therapeutic effects go with it. With CRISPR, we can take out the defective copy of the gene, and replace it with a functional copy which will last longer and prevent disease progression. However, this work has only been done in rats, and CRISPR technology is currently not approved for therapeutic applications in human tissue. Besides that, CRISPR is also embroiled in a copy-right dispute at the moment, so it may be a while before we know if this can be applied in a clinical setting.

CRISPR may help prevent eye degeneration

 

We hope you enjoyed this month’s news round-up, thanks for reading!

Devon Smith, The University of Sheffield, @devoncaira

Julie Blommaert, The University of Innsbruck, @jblommaert92

News Round-Up December 7th – 13th

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Hello, and welcome to the #bioscinews round-up! This is the place where you can find all the important biosci new stories from the past week, in a short, digestible paragraph.

This week’s news

In a rare find, palaeontologists in Scotland have stumble upon some sauropod footprints. The area where the footprints were found is thought to have been a lagoon in the Middle Jurassic – another dinosaur footprint was found in the area also. This marks the largest discovery of dinosaur footprints in Scotland, and adds to what we already know about Sauropods.

Nessie-

Malaria can be a large problem in certain areas of the world, and it is likely to spread with global warming, so control methods will be vital in the future. Since it is spread by specific mosquitoes, many strategies are aimed at reducing mosquito populations in malaria-prone areas. CRISPR (a new, promising gene-editing technology, and a technology which has been in our news quite a lot recently) has been used for the first time to cause heritable sterility in female mosquitoes. The technique was more than 90% effective, and models indicate that it would be a possible strategy to control wild populations of mosquitoes.

Credit: CDC

Credit: CDC

Turning differentiated cells back into stem cells is possible in some cases, but some problems still remain. It has not been possible to return all cell-types back to the pluripotent stage (a cell capable to turn into any other cell-type), but recent findings about epigenetic mechanisms may pave the way for improvements in this area. A central pathway in chromatin remodelling can be manipulated in order to return more cells to this “ground state”. Hopefully this advance will be useful not only in research, but also in regenerative medicine.

Easier pluripotent stem cells-

We hope you enjoyed this week’s news round-up, thanks for reading!

Devon Smith, The University of Sheffield, @devoncaira

Julie Blommaert, The University of Innsbruck, @jblommaert92

News Round-up November 23rd-29th

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Hello, and welcome to the #bioscinews round-up! This is the place where you can find all the important biosci new stories from the past week, in a short, digestible paragraph.

This week’s news

The Tardigrade genome was sequenced and found to contain more foreign genes than any previously sequenced animal genome. Tardigrades are extromophiles, meaning they can survive in conditions that would kill most organisms (they’ve even survived the cold and radiation of space!). It is thought that these wondrous little creatures pick up this foreign DNA when they dessicate (which helps them survive extreme conditions), in a similar way to Bdelloid rotifers. Since Bdelloids also dessicate to survive unideal conditions, there is a possibility that horizontal gene transfer is more common among extremophilic animals than previously thought.

Tardigrades!

A new immunotherapy method may change how Type I Diabetes is treated in the future, and may even help prevent the progression of the disease. Since Type I Diabetes is an autoimmune disease, the new approach targets the regulatory T (T-reg) cells of the immune system. In affected patients, the T-reg cells target the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas and destroy them, meaning that Type I diabetics need to inject insulin daily to combat this lack of insulin production by their bodies. By replacing the T-reg cells in a patient, researchers have prevented diabetic symptoms in early-onset patients and the slowing of the disease progression was also observed. Hopefully, further trials will continue to show promise.

New Diabetes Treatment (1)

 

We hope you enjoyed this week’s news round-up, thanks for reading!

Devon Smith, The University of Sheffield, @devoncaira

Julie Blommaert, The University of Innsbruck, @jblommaert92

News Round-up November 15th-22nd

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Hello, and welcome to the #bioscinews round-up! This is the place where you can find all the important biosci new stories from the past week, in a short, digestible paragraph.

This week’s news

Amphibians around the world have been fighting against fungal infection for years, but a new multi-pronged approach may be the key to getting rid of this disease. Chytrid is a white fungus, which kills amphibians and presents a big problem for frog populations world-wide. In the successful approach to eradicating this infection, scientists disinfected the environment and treated tadpoles of the Mallorcan midwife toad over a period of seven years. Extension of this approach may be crucial for saving frogs in different habitats around the world.

Chytrid

Antibiotic resistance is a huge issue for modern medicine. This week, news emerged that bacteria in China have developed resistance to the final group of antibiotics used when all else fails. This is particularly concerning as these traits are easily transferred between bacteria, meaning we have no more “last line of defence” against bacterial infections. This is a big blow to modern medicine – but all is not lost. Scientists are constantly developing new types of antibiotics and hopefully we can continue bringing these to clinical standards!

Antibiotic Resistance (1)

Animal models are important in studies involving human health, and the zebrafish might be helping to clear up the trade-off between tissue regeneration and cancer. Many animals can regenerate tissues and limbs if they are injured or removed, but this capability is severely limited in humans, with only very mild regeneration possible in very specific cases (e.g. the liver). By introducing a human tumour-suppressor gene into zebrafish, scientists were able to repress the regenerative capabilities of the fish. This supports the idea that humans have reduced their regenerative abilities as a trade-off for being more resistant to cancer development. This information could be useful in the treatment of cancer and in assisting healing and possibly even regeneration of serious injuries.

Credit: T Murakami

Credit: T Murakami

We hope you enjoyed this week’s news round-up, thanks for reading!

Devon Smith, The University of Sheffield, @devoncaira

Julie Blommaert, The University of Innsbruck, @jblommaert92

News Round-up November 8th-14th

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Hello, and welcome to the #bioscinews round-up! This is the place where you can find all the important biosci new stories from the past week, in a short, digestible paragraph.

This week’s news

Farmers living near big cats may not need to worry about loss of livestock, so long as the local ecosystem is balanced. Wild big cats seem to prefer wild animals to farm animals, and will only hunt the latter if food is otherwise in short supply.

Big Cats

Researchers have been trialling the use of antibodies to treat Alzheimer’s in humans, but recent studies in mice question whether this is a feasible treatment. The author’s found that the antibodies break up the amyloid-beta plaques, the protein build-up that causes Alzheimer’s, but the release of this protein can over-stimulate neurons until they die.

Alzheimer's drug causing more harm than good-

Nanoparticles hold some hope for cancer treatments in the future, especially for individually tailored treatments, but these can be difficult and expensive to produce. Algae can be genetically modified to produce nanoparticles, and this can help reduce the production cost for potential future cancer treatments.

Credit: Wikipedia user Wipeter

Credit: Wikipedia user Wipeter

 

We hope you enjoyed this week’s news round-up, thanks for reading!

Devon Smith, The University of Sheffield, @devoncaira

Julie Blommaert, The University of Innsbruck, @jblommaert92

Can we make chicken limbs grow?

Most people only view chickens as a source of meat. A means to an end to make a nice, tasty stir fry or a heart-warming soup. However, over the past few years, I have been using them to understand more about the development of the muscles. I am interested in what controls and signals muscle development, essentially: can I grow limbs from basic tissue? If I succeed, such a technique could potentially be used in medicine to help amputees and people who suffer with muscle related diseases. What’s more, it also has potential uses in the food industry.

So why chickens? 

Much scientific research is carried out in models such as mice and rats, however for my research, this is not the case. My work uses chicken embryos. The use of chicken embryos poses fewer problems concerning animal welfare and early chick embryo development is very similar to that of other animals. They are so similar that at early stages it can be very difficult to tell the difference between chicken, human or reptile. Can you tell the difference? I use chicken eggs that are freshly laid and incubated until a certain stage of their growth. Because the embryos are sheltered in an egg, it makes them easy to handle, although if you drop one there is one big omelette on the floor…

Development of Muscles

The official term for muscle development is Myogenesis and it occurs during embryo development. Most of the muscles that form the main body and limbs originate from the mesoderm, one of the several types of tissue that can undergo differentiation. The process of differentiation is when a cell becomes defined to a particular tissue type (e.g. a muscle cell) and it beholds a specific job or function. Think of a student at university: their bachelor’s degree is very broad but is in a defined field, they then go on to do a masters learning about just one specific area. They can then go further, become more ‘defined’, and do a PhD.

Credit: Poultry CRC

Credit: Poultry CRC

During early development the mesoderm forms defined segments called somites. It is from these somites that muscle originates. Normal body (trunk) skeletal muscle forms due to various signals, however, development of the limb muscles uses a completely different set of signals. During limb development, young muscle cells (known as a myoblasts) that express a muscle marker known as Pax 3 move into the limb bud. This movement (or migration) only occurs at specific sites, just like bird migratory events only happen at certain times of the year. Once these young myoblasts have migrated they form two distinct muscle masses: the dorsal and ventral masses. Once these masses have formed, the myoblasts begin to differentiate and express specific markers of differentiated muscle, including Myf5 and MyoD. The muscles of the limb will then continue to grow and develop into the normal defined limbs that everyone recognises.

Why muscle development?

Muscle development provides an excellent model for developmental science. Up until now, research has focused on the regulation and development of somites, and the development of limbs is currently not understood. Nobody understands how limbs grow in such specific locations, therefore I aim to use muscle development in chicken embryos to shed light and understand the processes that regulate differentiation during my PhD project.

 

Helen Anderton

The University of Nottingham

@Helen_Anderton1