Since joining the Bioscience department a year ago I have really enjoyed teaching and researching in the “small” (micro and molecular) areas of biology.
I was fortunate enough to be awarded a Research Culture Bursary over the summer, which has allowed us to start investigating the use of molecular methods in studying Pied Flycatcher populations. In particular, we have been using stable isotope analysis to figure out where the birds are overwintering, and have already found some really interesting results which suggest that overwintering site may affect breeding success in the UK. Watch this space for the paper currently in preparation (Anne Goodenough, David Coker, Matt Wood and Sally Rogers – Half a world away: Linking African stable isotope signatures to population demographics and reproductive success on UK breeding grounds in a declining migrant species).
I have also established a small army of students and collaborators – thanks to Dr. David Canal (Donana Biological Station, Spain), David Coker (BTO), Holly Tipper (bursary student), Sophie Medlock (internship student) and finally Tom Nicholson and Asif Laldin, (dissertation students) – to work on identifying and characterising Natural Killer cell receptors in Pied Flycatchers. Preliminary results are looking good, and we are awaiting DNA sequencing results to confirm the gene organisation and level of nucleotide variation between birds. The eventual and overall aim of this project is to improve our understanding of the role of Natural Killer cells in resistance to the emerging human pathogen West Nile Virus. We were also able to take advantage of the new molecular lab space in QU117 for practical sessions in the Microbial Biotechnology module (NS6205), with students setting up their own PCR reactions. Fingers crossed now for my fellowship application, which if successful will provide ongoing funding for molecular biology research at the University of Gloucestershire for a further 5 years.
In other developments, we have gained permission from the HSE to work with Category level 2 microorganisms at FCH. This required some new taps and an awful lot of paperwork(!). Dissertation student Sadekha Zillul took advantage of the new Containment Level 2 area to establish growing conditions for Helicobacter pylori. This bacterial species is of particular interest as it has been associated with stomach ulcers and, in the long term, stomach cancer in humans. The addition of a class 2 biological safety cabinet and an automated Biolog identification system provides some great opportunities for dissertation projects next year.
Together with these research developments, students really enjoyed the Microbe Human Interactions module this year, which has been great fun to teach. The first semester saw students learn how to count and identify bacteria using various biochemical tests, and then design and test their own low tech water filtration unit. We are currently examining various different pathogens, focusing on world relevance, the host response and current hot topics (for example anti-microbial resistance, which has been described as an “apocolyptic scenario” by Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer for the Department of Health).
“I had a great time in the module – the practical elements and teaching style were interesting and engaging. With regards to working in the lab, it was fantastic to work with the lab techniques and it has played a big part in the way I chose my Dissertation project.” Grace Lee-Smith, Microbe Human Interaction module student
So, in conclusion, a busy and interesting year for “small” biology at the University of Gloucestershire.
Dr. Sally Rogers, Senior Lecturer
(Sally is currently on maternity leave, and will return for the start of the 2014-15 academic year in September)