Current Fourth Years
Emma graduated from the University of Bath in 2019 with a BSc in Molecular and Cellular Biology. As part of her programme, she spent a year in Dr Karl Morten’s lab at the University of Oxford, where she looked at opportunities for targeting mitochondria as an anti-cancer strategy. During her time at Oxford, Emma saw the potential that targeting mitochondria may hold for treating a range of human diseases, owing to their central function in many aspects of complex life.
For her PhD with Dr Vicki Gold, Emma will explore mitochondrial complex I assembly as a factor for disease. She will be using state-of-the-art imaging methods including electron cryomicroscopy (cryoEM) to investigate the breakdown of mitochondrial networks in complex I mutants.
Michael graduated from the University of Reading in 2018 with a BSc Biochemistry degree and is expected to graduate his MRes in Cardiff University for Bioscience in summer 2020. During studies and research, he developed a passion for cell-cell communication and intracellular signalling. At the Trevor Dale lab, Cardiff, Michael worked on Wnt signalling and liver zonation.
Michael’s PhD focuses on quantifying the molecular affinities between Wnt signalling proteins and their target cell surface receptors. As multiple cell types produce many unique Wnts simultaneously, understanding their binding affinities will improve understanding of Wnt signalling specificity. Quantifying these interactions will involve collaboration with Leica Microsystems, using their state-of-the-art in fluorescence fluctuation techniques associated with single-molecule detection. mRNA over-expression and CRISPR/Cas9-based knock-out methods will be used in the generation of transgenic zebrafish as model organisms.
Under the supervision of Prof Steffen Scholpp and Prof Christian Soeller at the Living Systems Institute in Exeter, Michael focuses in his PhD project on quantifying the molecular affinities between Wnt signalling proteins and their target cell surface receptors.
Tobit Dehnen earned his integrated Master’s degree from the University of Sheffield. For his Master’s project, he worked on home-range ecology in long-tailed tits with Prof. Ben Hatchwell. During his degree he also worked as an intern, studying cultural inheritance, sexual selection and immunity with Dr. Lucy Aplin, Dr. Martin Garlovsky and Prof. Mike Siva-Jothy, respectively.
Tobit is now a PhD student at the University of Exeter—co-supervised by Dr Damien Farine and Dr Neeltje Boogert—studying the social behaviour of vulturine guineafowl. Specifically, Tobit is investigating how parents can impact offspring dominance rank, and which proximate mechanisms regulate such parental effects.
Dunia graduated from the University of Bristol in 2018 with a BSc in Biology. After finishing her biology degree, she completed a summer research internship at the University of Bristol where she examined whether zebra stripes serve as a form of camouflage against parasitism by tabanid flies. Following her internship, she undertook an MRes at the University of Bristol, supervised by Dr. Martin How, where she studied colour vision in stomatopod crustaceans.
Dunia’s PhD research is supervised by Prof Natalie Hempel de Ibarra and Dr Karen Anderson at the University of Exeter. It will examine on how bees learn and remember landmarks in their environment and how fragmented landscapes affect these processes.
Jamie graduated from the University of Bath in 2019 with a BSc in Biomedical Sciences. A yearlong research placement at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) during his undergraduate degree provided an introduction to the exciting field of aquaculture. Here he performed a health screen of wild caught balan wrasse that are extensively used as cleaner fish in Atlantic salmon faming, for the removal of parasitic sea lice.
Jamie’s aquaculture research now moves to the University of Exeter under the supervision of Prof Charles Tyler, in collaboration with WorldFish and Cefas. He will investigate how antibiotic pollution is influencing the microbiome and health of tilapia in Bangladesh. Tilapia is a critical food source for millions of people and is one of the most extensively farmed aquaculture species across the world.
Zoe graduated from the University of Birmingham in 2018 with a MSci in Mathematics, largely focusing on differential equations and their applications particularly in regards to biology. She completed her fourth year project under Dr Paul Roberts in which she constructed a differential equation model for the adsorption of the protein fibrinogen onto a surface, from which emerged key experimentally observed behaviours.
Zoe is now completing her PhD with the BBSRC SWBio DTP and under the supervision of Prof Krasimira Tsaneva-Atanasova. She will be specialising in endocrinology, and in particular looking at the interactions in the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis and constructing a mathematical model for this system as a whole.
Sarah graduated from the University of Birmingham in 2018 with a BSc in Biomedical Science. In 2019, she undertook a MSc in Control of Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Her master’s project was based at the Animal and Plant Health Agency in Surrey where she investigated the ability of zoonotic avian influenza viruses to reassort and produce novel genotypes.
For her PhD, Sarah will work under the supervision of Dr Ben Longdon and Prof Angus Buckling to study the consequences of viral evolution on host shifts. The project will use a bacteria-virus system to ask fundamental questions about what factors underly a virus’ ability to jump between host species.
Current Third Years
Studentship led by Rothamsted Research
Victoria graduated from the University of Bristol in 2020 with a MSci in Biology, where she completed her final year project in the lab of Prof. Alistair Hetherington looking at CO2 and drought-induced signaling pathways resulting in stomatal closure.
During her undergraduate studies, she undertook a BSPP funded summer studentship at The Sainsbury Laboratory in the group of Dr Matthew Moscou, where she investigated the wild barley diversity collection (WBDC) as a source of novel resistance for Pyricularia oryzae (teleomorph Magnaporthe oryzae), the causal agent of blast disease on the Poaceae (true grasses). This opportunity ignited an interest in plant-pathogen interactions, which Victoria hopes to explore further with her PhD project investigating communication mechanisms between the fungal pathogen Fusarium graminearum and wheat, under the supervision of Prof Kim Hammond-Kosack (RRes) and Dr Michael Deeks (Exeter).
Ryan graduated from the University of Oxford in 2018 with a BA in Biological Sciences, during which he specialised in themes of evolution and genomics. For his undergraduate research project he, alongside Dr Ellie Bath, looked at the effect of sexual conflict in driving aggressive behaviour in Drosophila melanogaster, which led to a publication. Ryan is now expected to graduate with an MRes from the University of Bristol, on the basis of research analysing the expression of introgressions in the wheat genome, under the supervision of Dr Gary Barker.
For his PhD Ryan will be working with Dr Alex Hayward, Prof. Chris Bass and Dr Pablo Orozco-terWengel, researching how transposons have contributed to eukaryote evolution, first by applying this framework to studying animal development, and then in the context of agricultural domestication; the latter constitutes the bulk of his research with potential applications for improving livestock productivity.
Isobel graduated with a BSc in Environmental Biotechnology from the University of Plymouth in 2020, where she developed her interest in molecular biology, biochemistry, and photosynthetic organisms. Throughout this, she worked on algal projects at Plymouth Marine Laboratory and secured funding to investigate the potential of macroalgae as a fuel and fertiliser. Her placement year at the University of Exeter focused on expressing, characterising and crystallising enzymes with key industrial applications. She was then introduced to the importance of antioxidant defences and the impact of reactive oxygen species through her dissertation on evaluating the role of glutathione peroxidase.
Combining her interests, she will be investigating the function of the antioxidant ergothioneine, in plants and algae. The PhD will determine the occurrence, synthesis, and functions of the metabolite through biochemical and physiological characterisation of ergothioneine mutants, supervised by Prof Nick Smirnoff, Dr Glen Wheeler (MBA) and Dr Katherine Helliwell.
Amber graduated from The University of Exeter in 2018 with a BSc in Biological Science (Microbiology and Infectious Disease). During her studies, she was fascinated by plant innate immunity and plant-microbe interactions, which led her to enrol on a MRes in Molecular Plant and Microbial Sciences at Imperial College. While working on autophagy-related immunity in plants Amber became curious about the spatial and temporal arrangement of plants immune responses.
Following this theme Amber is researching in the laboratory of Dr Michael Deeks, University of Exeter. Amber’s project will address how FORMIN4 and other cargoes are targeted with high precision to sites of immunity. Specifically focusing on the role of small GTPases in defining the response-zone and focusing traffic towards the pathogen.
James graduated from Exeter University with a Masters in Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture. Having focused on wet lab bioscience during his BSc, James’ MSc project involved comparative genomic study of cultivars of the African subsistence crop, Enset. He quantified a metric called heterozygosity for each strain, and then compared this against their susceptibility to the dangerous bacterial wilt pathogen.
Spending some time working in the RD&E hospital genetics labs since this time, James now hopes to combine his interest in dry and wet lab approaches to address important food security issues in his PhD. Based in the Penryn labs of Professors Bass and Ffrench-Constant, he’ll be endeavouring to understand how a globally significant crop pest (the peach potato aphid) is able to develop resistance to insecticides upon exposure. As part of this study, he’ll also be undertaking rotation projects in web design and insect/plant ecology.
Matt graduated from the University of Bath with a first class honours in BSc Biochemistry. Whilst undertaking his degree, Matt undertook a lab-based project with Dr Stefan Bagby and Mohsina Bashir, developing a method for producing a bacterial hydrophobin that could be used on surfaces of graphene-based biosensors.
His PhD will revolve around answering biological questions utilising the novel Plasmonically Enhanced Whispering Gallery Mode method, at the University of Exeter, with Prof Frank Vollmer. He will begin producing target proteins at the University of Bath with Dr Stefan Bagby, starting with HECT E3 Ubiquitin Ligases, attempting to better understand the mixed-ubiquitin chains that are used in molecular signalling, protein degradation and countless more cellular processes.
Gemma graduated from the Integrated Master of Biology (MBiol) programme at the University of York in 2020. During her degree Gemma completed an Erasmus placement year in Barcelona studying brain tumours in Drosophila melanogaster at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine and the University of Barcelona. For her Masters research project, Gemma worked with Dr Betsy Pownall characterising the development of the extremophile cichlid fish Oreochromis (Alcolapia) alcalica for the first time. She was awarded the Advanced Accreditation Top Project Award from the Royal Society of Biology for her final report.
This has led Gemma to pursue a PhD in the field of developmental biology. She is now working with Dr Steffen Scholpp and Prof Robert Kelsh investigating the function of Wnt signalling in Neural Crest development in zebrafish.
Current Second Years
Standard studentship with associate partner: In collaboration with University of the Exeter + Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML)
Shauna graduated from the University of Exeter in 2014 with a BSc in Biological Sciences. Her thesis investigated the microplastic contamination of the decapod C. Maenas, sparking her interest in marine chemical ecology. From here she worked as an Analytical Chemist analysing agricultural residues to produce reports on environmental impacts, before completing her MRes in Marine Biology (2020).
Merging her interests in analytical chemistry and marine biology she is now undertaking a PhD project investigating seaweed diseases supervised by Dr Michiel Vos (University of Exeter) and Dr Mahasweta Saha (Plymouth Marine Laboratory). Here she will be investigating chemically-mediated host-pathogen interactions to improve commercial seaweed production. Shauna’s research hopes to address the limited knowledge on this chemical language, including the antimicrobials used to reduce the settlement of opportunistic pathogens, the compositional changes of the microbiota, and whether chemical defence can be upregulated for commercial benefit.
Dan graduated from the University of Sussex in 2017 with an MRes in Neuroscience. He conducted several projects throughout his studies, focusing on learning and memory using experimental methods such as electrophysiology, CRISPR-Cas9, and diffusion MRI. After 3 years in hospitality management, Dan has decided to return to his passion: investigating the mechanisms of learning and memory.
Dan will continue studying in this vein through his PhD project under the supervision of Dr Jon Witton. This project aims to characterise the functional significance of cholinergic synaptic input to the retrosplenial cortex, an area of the brain’s neocortex that constitutes an important node within a distributed learning and memory circuit. This project will utilise electrophysiology, two-photon microscopy, and state-of-the-art virtual reality tasks throughout this investigation.
Tasha graduated from The Open University in 2018 with a BSc in Health Science (1:1) and a passion for microbiology. She has four years of industry experience in microbiology including pathology and diagnostics (NHS), medical device decontamination and pharmaceutical manufacturing. After seeing how scientific research is used to inform professional practice and experiencing its real-world application in clinical and commercial settings, Tasha was inspired to pursue a career in research and development and so applied for a CASE studentship with the SWBio DTP programme.
Tasha is based at the Penryn campus of the University of Exeter where she is studying the transmission dynamics of Mycobacterium bovis, the causative agent of bovine tuberculosis, under the supervision of Dr Xavier Harrison and Prof Robbie McDonald.
Courtney graduated from the University of Exeter in 2021 with a first-class honours in BSc Biochemistry with Industrial Experience at GlaxoSmithKline. During her placement year, Courtney worked in Biopharm Process Research, using computational modelling to optimise monoclonal antibody production processes. Throughout her studies, Courtney has been fascinated by combining computational power with molecular biochemistry. This led her to undertaking a protein X-ray crystallography project in her final year on a thermostable enol-lactonase.
Her PhD project will be supervised by Prof. Nicholas Harmer, Prof. Christiane Berger-Schaffitzel and Dr. Vicki Gold. Her aim is to use novel structural biology methodologies to unravel the structures of critical proteins in the biosynthesis pathways of C.burnetii. She will begin her project by learning how to perform micro electron diffraction and use the data to solve preliminary polysaccharide structures.
Rags graduated from King’s College London with a BSc (Hons) in Sports and Exercise Medical Sciences. Over the course of her undergraduate studies, she developed a keen interest in human muscle physiology. Her projects included differentiating the effects of inactivity and inherent ageing on an older person’s muscle and investigating the cellular and molecular adaptations of cardiac muscle to exercise.
Rags’ PhD supervised by Dr Anni Vanhatalo aims to understand the role of skeletal muscle nitrate metabolism as a modulator of cardiovascular health in ageing. The project will assess whether human skeletal muscle makes a significant contribution to nitrate reduction, explore the mechanisms of nitrate transport between the circulation and skeletal muscle, and determine the influence of dietary interventions on muscle nitrate content and functional outcomes in younger and older adults.
William graduated from the University of Exeter in 2021 with an MSci in Zoology. For his PhD, he is studying the evolution of ageing in unicellular life with Dr Andrew Young, expanding on his master’s and undergraduate research projects. William is using evolutionary modelling, experimental evolution, and microfluidic microscopy to investigate why and how E. coli age.
This research project is based at the University of Exeter, Cornwall campus, while collaborating with the Streatham campus and the University of Bristol alongside Dr Stefano Pagliara, Prof Angus Buckling and Prof John McNamara. William’s other research interests include the extended evolutionary synthesis and biostatistics.
William graduated from the University of Manchester in 2021 with a BSc in Molecular Biology. One year was spent on an industrial placement at the Perrakis Lab in the Netherlands Cancer Institute, interrogating the structure and function of novel DNA binding proteins from Trypanosomes, parasites which continue to cause fatal human disease. This project provided extensive experience of cryo-electron microscopy which led to a final year project in the EM facility of the University of Manchester. Work centred on analysis of EM data of the translation initiation factor complex eIF2-2B with Dr. Alan Roseman and Prof. Graham Pavitt.
This longstanding interest in structural biology and human pathogens led to William starting a PhD with Dr. Nicholas Harmer aiming to elucidate functional insights into the mechanisms of pathogenesis by the organism Coxiella Burnetii, with an aim to eventual drug discovery.
Anuj graduated with a Bachelor of Technology degree from IIIT Jabalpur in India before getting his Master of Engineering degree from Toyohashi University of Technology in Japan, specialising in developing microfluidic platforms for isolation and extraction of single cells deterministically.
Anuj will now work on his PhD at Living Systems Institute and Plymouth Marine Laboratory under the guidance of Dr. Fabrice Gielen, Prof. Mike Allen and Dr. Stineke Van Houte. His work will be focused in the fields of microbiology and microfluidic engineering. The aim of his project is to develop novel high-throughput functional assays that can identify novel bacteriolytic enzymes. He will work on developing a microfluidic platform to combine cutting-edge high-throughput screening technologies in microfluidic droplets with protein engineering to create an endolysin evolution platform so that sequence-function relationships for endolysin activity and successful bacteriolysis can be better understood.
Joe graduated from The University of Exeter with an MSci degree in Zoology in 2021. He conducted his masters project within the laboratory of Prof. Gabriel Yvon-Durocher, investigating how interspecific interactions influence thermal tolerance evolution in microbial communities. This led Joe to develop an interest in understanding how ecological and environmental factors interact to shape evolutionary trajectories.
Joe’s PhD project, supervised by Prof Edze Westra, Prof Mark Szczelkun, and Dr Stineke van-Houte, will focus on investigating how bacterial immune systems influence the horizontal gene transfer of genetic material that confers antimicrobial resistance. This research will not only prove useful in understanding how antimicrobial resistance spreads within microbial communities, but will also aid in elucidating how the costs and benefits of different immune systems vary with varying biotic and abiotic contexts.
Current First Years
Jaimie graduated from the University of Exeter with an MSci in Zoology in 2020. His final year research project under Prof Chris Bass investigated the differential predation of aphid colour morphs by ladybirds, taking a sensory ecology approach using the ladybirds visual system. Jaimie has an inherent fascination for arthropods; his third year research project assessed the determinants of running speed in cockroaches. Continuing this interest he joined The Rock Pool Project to explore marine arthropods on the shore and outreach to the local community about them.
Jaimie’s PhD is a CASE partnership with Bayer aiming to determine if key hoverfly guilds express enzymes that detoxify insecticides using Episyrphus balteatus and Eristalis tenax. Then to elucidate the underlying genetic basis and metabolic pathways this entails, with the goal to inform sustainable insecticide development. Supervised by Dr Karl Wotton, Prof Chris Bass and Dr Ralf Nauen (CASE).
Emma graduated from the University of the West of England with a first-class Master of Research in applied sciences. Her master’s degree research project focused on the biochemical inhibition of splice factors within cancer cell lines. This research demonstrated the importance of indirect inhibition through major signalling pathways, such as MAPK, on cellular stability. This sparked Emma’s interest in cell signalling which led her to undertake a PhD within this area.
Emma’s PhD research, supervised by Dr Steffen Scholpp, investigates the role of multiple signalling mechanisms, such as Wnt and SHh, within the wound healing cascade. This will be done initially through in vitro methods and then expanded in vivo within zebrafish. This project aims to understand and regulate these signalling events to allow faster healing.
Lubna graduated from Institute of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering, Agriculture University, Peshawar Pakistan with a M.Phil. in health Biotechnology. She did her final year project on risk factors associated with Hepatitis C spread in Peshawar.
Lubna’s PhD project at University of Exeter will purify a conserved protein complex, subjecting it to biochemical and biophysical analysis in order to characterize its three-dimensional structure and relate it to its function during cell division. It will require Lubna to undertake standard molecular biology, fixed and live microscopy imaging, biochemical purification techniques, hydrogen-deuterium exchange mass spectrometry and computational modelling. The project is supervised by Prof. James Wakefield and Prof. Jonathan Philips (Living system Institute) from University of Exeter.
Standard studentship with associate partner: In collaboration with University of the Exeter + Swansea University
Luca graduated from the University of Cologne (Germany) with a BSc in Biology, focusing on animal behaviour, ecology, evolution, and biodiversity. He then pursued an MSc in Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology at the University of Exeter in Cornwall, where he investigated cooperative nest building in wild jackdaw pairs.
Luca is particularly captivated by cognitive, social, and cultural evolution. He explores the behaviour and cognition of diverse animals in the wild through the lenses of behavioural ecology and comparative psychology, asking questions about their “social mind”, e.g. social learning, social relationships, cooperation, and communication.
During his PhD at the University of Exeter, supervised by Prof Alex Thornton, Luca aims to better understand the benefits and costs of social relationships in wild jackdaws. More specifically, using various methods, he studies how the social world might affect variables such as health, stress, food, and cultural knowledge.
Kingsley graduated from the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in 2019 with a BSc in Zoology with Study Abroad, before going on to complete a Masters by Research degree at the same institution in 2022. Kingsley’s research interests are broadly in social evolution and behavioural ecology, and his master’s thesis involved mostly theoretical work using agent-based models to explore the evolution of intergroup conflict. His PhD, under the supervision of Faye Thompson, builds on this interest in inter-group interactions and aims to investigate how sociality can shape the microbiome of group-living species, using the termite Zootermopsis angusticollis as a study system.
Dylan graduated from the University of Exeter in 2020 with a BSc (Hons) Biochemistry with Industrial Experience. It was here he became interested in protein dynamics, especially during his undergraduate research project with Prof. Nic Harmer. His placement was at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, where he returned to work as a technician after graduation. In 2021 he returned to structural biology, joining Prof. Max Crispin’s group at the University of Southampton as a research technician.
Dylan is now back in Exeter for his PhD, supervised by Dr JJ Phillips, Dr Daniel Kattnig, and Prof. Adrian Mulholland. His project focuses on the structure and magnetosensitivity of cryptochrome 4, a protein thought to act as a “molecular compass” in migratory birds. He aims to combine HDX-MS and molecular dynamics simulations to create an experimentally driven molecular movie of cry4 conformational changes in response to magnetic fields.
Jack graduated from the University of Exeter in 2021 with a Bsc (Hons) in Biological Sciences. His final year dissertation involved analysing water chemistry data from the Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS) of five Scottish Atlantic salmon farms. He then gained industrial insight which strengthened his aquaculture knowledge by working at a rainbow trout farm (Exmoor Fisheries Ltd) after university. These experiences established his interest in research and specifically within the application of physiology, chemistry and data analysis to improve aquaculture.
Jack has returned to the University of Exeter and his PhD aims to optimise water chemistry for intensive production of rainbow trout in RAS. The project is supervised by Prof Rod Wilson and Dr Alexis Perry.
In 2021, Akshita graduated from the University of Plymouth with a first-class BSc (Hons) Biomedical Science. Following this, she joined the University of Exeter as a research technician. Her work on calcium and voltage imaging in the GH4C1 rat pituitary cell line using fluorescent indicators sparked her interest in understanding mathematical models to unveil the mechanisms of electrical activity patterns in a biological network.
Akshita’s PhD project aims to experimentally manipulate connection maps in neural networks and verify model predictions using optogenetics and mathematical modeling approaches. This project is co-supervised by Dr Kyle Wedgwood and Dr Joël Tabak at Exeter and Prof Alain Nogaret at Bath.
Callum graduated from the University of Plymouth in 2019 with a BSc in Marine Biology before going onto an MRes in Marine Biology still at Plymouth. Since leaving university, Callum has worked in the biotechnology industry manufacturing in vitro diagnostics products and providing DNA relationship testing.
During his MRes course, Callum studied nervous system evolution and function in sea anemone larvae. Since then, he has developed an interest in larval development and behaviour. Callum’s PhD will focus on the role of neuropeptide signalling in controlling larval settlement behaviour and metamorphosis across different marine species. Callum is based at the University of Exeter and is supervised by Dr Elizabeth Williams.
Standard studentship with associate partner: In collaboration with University of the Exeter + The Marine Biological Association (MBA)
Beth graduated from Newcastle University in 2018 with a BSc in Marine Biology and graduated from Plymouth University in 2021 with a MRes in Marine Biology. Beth’s Masters project was supervised by Dr Michael Cunliffe and Dr Nathan Chrismas and focused on the trait distribution of marine lichen on the rocky shore, and the symbiont activity in the Lichen Lichina pygmaea at high and low tide. Beth has also worked and volunteered in several marine biological roles over the years, mostly in education and public engagement. For her PhD project Beth will be under the supervision of Dr Stephen Michell, Dr Michael Cunliffe and Professor Mike Allen looking into biotechnological potential of marine fungi. She is specifically investigating the marine fungi bioprocessing of seaweed, aiming to understand the fundamental biology behind fungal growth and then assessing the biotechnological potential of this process.