Sad not to be doing imascientist anymore, but enjoying dropping in on the other zones to see what they are up to!
Devonport High School for Boys, Plymouth (1982-1989)
Keble College, University of Oxford, Pure and Applied Biology B.A. Hons. (1989-1992), University of Nottingham, Genetics PhD (1992-1995)
Postdoctoral Researcher: University of Nottingham, Dept. of Genetics (1996-1999), Wellcome Trust International Prize Travelling Research Fellow: University of Michigan, Dept. of Human Genetics (1999-2001), Univesity of Leicester, Dept. of Genetics (2001-2002)
Lecturer in Bioinformatics, Department of Genetics
L1 or LINE-1 retrotransposons that we work on are the “master” transposons in the human genome, providing the machinery to move not only themselves, but also non-autonomous transposons and even human genes. Understanding when and where these molecular parasites move has profound consequences for human genome evolution. Recent studies have shown that while most transposons restrict their activity to the germline (where sperm and eggs are produced), L1 retrotransposons may specifically target the early stages of development. We use genome-wide analyses, both in the lab and in silico to investigate the dynamics and regulation of this unusual behaviour, in cultured human cells and DNA from embryonic and germline sources.
We also work on transposons in primates, which involves analysing DNA samples from the chimps, gorillas and orang-utans at our local zoo, Twycross. The Zoo is a fantastic resource for research and internationally renowned for its primate collection. Another line of our work is studying a transposon that frequently causes genetic mutations in laboratory mice, so we are particularly interested in how this sequence’s mobility is controlled.
My Typical Day
My typical day is… never the same twice, but usually involves cycling to work, a little email and some planning, meetings, labwork and writing…
What I do in a typical day varies quite a lot based on whether I am involved in teaching or not… At the moment I am mostly involved with teaching bioinformatics (that’s biology + computers) to postgraduate students. This entails quite a lot of typing (emails, writing up results, some programming), but also working with the students to help them carry out an assessed research project. I also teach an undergraduate bioinformatics module in the winter.
If I am not involved in teaching I am helping plan and supervise my PhD, MSc and undergraduate research students’ lab work, as well as doing a little lab work of my own. I also spent quite a lot of time in meetings – many of these are exciting because they involve talking about science, but others less so (mostly administration). Just recently I have also been meeting with frequently with some new staff who’s job it is to assist University researchers with their Bioinformatics and Biostatistics. I was lucky enough to be involved in planning and recruiting for this new service, so it’s exciting to see it taking off
What I'd do with the prize money
I’d spend the money telling as many people as possible about how amazing their DNA is, and how (and why) jumping genes made a lot of it
When I was a postdoctoral fellow in the USA (1999-2001) the human genome sequence was just being finished and I was lucky enough to work with people who did a lot of the initial analysis. It was amazing, having worked on human tranposons for just a short time, to hear just how much of our DNA they occupied and how much they were involved in creating. This made me think that the human genome is a pretty amazing thing – it manages to make fantastically complicated things (us), despite being filled with lots of frankly useless and sometimes quite dangerous parasitic DNA sequences. This made me even more determined to try to find out how we got into this mess (by studying genome evolution) and what our transposons are up to now… This is a really intriguing and still (to me, anyway) surprising area which I love telling other people about!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
optimistic, excitable, geeky
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Got in a little trouble for misbehaving on a Brittany beach (in February!) on a school trip to France…
Who is your favourite singer or band?
This one changes like the weather, but at the moment having a fat boy slim revival!
What is the most fun thing you've done?
2 minutes of skydiving (in the vertical wind tunnel at Milton Keynes) – couldn’t stop giggling!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Win the lottery (so I could spend it all on experiments!), go into space, be a great-grandparent.
Tell us a joke.
Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana!