Actin filament dynamics unravelled by Kent Fungal Group

Actin_filamentPhD students in Dan Mulvihill’s group have recently published a study in which they have uncovered the mechanism by which the physical properties of different populations of actin filaments within cells are fine tuned to undertake different functions ( While some of these actin polymers are “fine-tuned” to provide a stable scaffold or framework to the cell, others are more dynamic and allow the cell to rapidly respond to changes in its environment. Matt Johnson and Dan East used a novel molecular biology trick to change the cellular location of different formin “nucleators” which seed actin filament growth. They discovered this led to a switch in the location of molecules which bind to and stabilise the actin polymer and modulate the movement of molecular motors. In this way they uncovered the mechanism which determines the functional characteristics of actin filaments in all cells and orchestrates cellular events in organisms from yeast to man. These findings are likely to have a major impact in the development of therapies for a variety of diseases, such as cancer.

Record success for the “Class of 2014″

congregationThe School of Biosciences is delighted to report the outstanding achievement of our graduating class. After a furiously intense period of revision, examinations, marking, cataloguing and mark input and verification, the final year Examination Board took place this week, attended by academic staff and our two external examiners. Students from the Class of 2014 achieved a record level of achievement for the School, with three-quarters of our students being awarded Upper Second Class Honours or above, as well as a record number being awarded First Class. Our external examiners were impressed by the very high quality of work that our students had submitted in examinations, the wide range of final year projects provided, and the variety of continuous assessments that provide transferable skills for future employability.

This is a real achevement for all concerned – a reflection of the high quality and commitment of our students, and of the the staff who have taught them and supported them over the last 3 or 4 years. Many congratualtion to all – we will be celebrating with you at the graduation ceremony next month!

Kent Fungal Group Award

cwg_wt_imageDr Campbell Gourlay, from the Kent Fungal Group in the School of Biosciences, has been successful in attracting a Wellcome Trust medical mycology and fungal immunology strategic award to increase our knowledge as to how mitochondria, an essential component of most eukaryotic cells, are involved in controlling the ability of two of the most common human fungal pathogens Candida albicans and Candida glabrata to infect and resist common treatment regimes. The research will identify new factors that are important for the establishment of fungal infections and so will pave the way for the development of new anti-fungal therapeutics.

The award is a joint collaboration with the University of Aberdeen.

Outcomes of blastocysts biopsied and vitrified once versus those cryopreserved twice for euploid blastocyst transfer


Tyl Taylor (Griffin lab) established that human embryos can be frozen and

thawed twice, if necessary, without incurring gross genetic (chromosomal)



Taylor, T.H., Patrick, J.L., Gitlin, S., Wilson, J.M., Crain, J.L. & Griffin, D.K. (2014)  Reproductive BioMedicine Online, 29, 59-64.

Student profile: Liam Abrahams

liam-abrahamsLiam Abrahams is undertaking an MSc in Cancer Biology.

What attracted you to Kent?

 I was interested in the field of Cancer and wanted to learn more. Whilst researching different courses online, the content of the course at Kent described by the module outlines gained my interest instantly making my choice easy.

What do you feel is different about your postgraduate study experience compared to undergraduate?

 Studying at a postgraduate level is a very different experience with more of the focus on self-study and outside reading. The small group numbers of 10-15 allow more personal learning experience whilst the seminars are always interactive – although the lecturer will lead the seminar there is often a lot of discussion about novel ideas or current issues in the field. This allows for a more open scope in what is covered during the course which is highlighted by the broad and open topics that are assessed.

How is the teaching?

 The teaching on the course is of high quality but also very engaging. Each lecturer is a specialist in their field which makes questioning and understanding easier. The lecturers are also very approachable and I have no hesitation asking them questions as I am made to feel part of the team.

 How would you describe your fellow students?

 My fellow students are all very hard working and inquisitive. Having completed my undergraduate degree in Mathematics with Biology sometimes concepts will be completely new to me and everyone else may understand, however the lecturers explain with as much sense and simplicity as possible.

What skills have you gained?

 Having not been in many lab based situations before, the first semester lab project brings everyone up to the same level and allowed for me to learn the standard techniques. My scientific writing skills have vastly improved during the course as well as presenting skills – a reflection on the wide range of assessments that are used on the course and the feedback provided.

Has Kent been a good place for aspects of student life outside of your academic studies?

 I trampoline 6 times a week for which I placed 18th in the Loulé World Cup, Portugal for Great Britain in 2012. Due to this I am studying part time whilst training. Although training and coaching takes up a vast deal of my time, I have always felt that I have had enough time to complete outside reading and assignments without being under too much pressure. The structure of the course has also been beneficial to balancing academic work and sport. I have had specific help in terms of Strength and Conditioning, which has been extremely beneficial in helping my general fitness level, as well as funding from Kent Sport through their scholarship scheme.

 What skills have you gained in support of your future career?

 Aside from academic benefits, the main skills I have developed would be my communication skills. Prior to the course I would have been happy to sit and listen; however the manner in which the course is run helps to build confidence in asking questions at any point which in turn makes learning much easier.

What advice would you give to prospective students?

 The advice I would give is to be open and ask questions, no matter how stupid they may seem. By reading around the topic before seminars also makes a big difference as it allows you to contribute to discussions rather than learning about it there and then. There is a big focus on the course of two-way discussions which is extremely beneficial in learning and applying the ideas presented.

Research Seminar: Mitochondria but not as you know them.

Dr. Mark van der Giezen, Biosciences, University of Exeter

Monday 16th June, 4.00 p.m., Stacey Lecture Theatre 1

Mitochondria are the main of sites of ATP generation in eukaryotes. These organelles are derived from a bacterial endosymbiont that entered a host cell over 1.5 billion years ago. Comparative genetics has made it clear that the mitochondrion is monophyletic in origin. Therefore, the mitochondrial endosymbiont evolved independently in various aerobic and anaerobic lineages. This has resulted in an assemblage of heterogeneous organelle variants including classic text-book mitochondria, hydrogenosomes and mitosomes. Recently, studies investigating less well-studied eukaryotic groups have resulted in the realisation that mitochondrial diversity is even more fluid than previously thought. In this talk I will provide an overview of the field of mitochondrial evolution using examples of the cell biological and biochemical variety found in various anaerobic microbial eukaryotes, both free-living as well as pathogenic.


Research Seminar: Controlling electron transfer at the microbe-mineral interface.

Dr. Tom Clarke, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia

Monday 9th June, 4.00 p.m., Stacey Lecture Theatre 1

Many bacteria can use solid minerals and metal oxides during respiration instead of oxygen, causing the minerals to dissolve.  This process requires electrons generated during metabolism to be transported through the outer membrane of the bacterial and to the mineral surface.  Our research has focused on the path these electrons take and the proteins involved in their transport.  We identified a porin-cytochrome ‘wire’ that controls electron transfer through the outer membrane, and probed how the multihaem cytochromes that cover the cell surface can interact with a mineral surface.

Graduate profile: Anja Godfrey

Anja Godfrey graduated in July 2013 with a degree in Biomedical Sciences.

anjaAs I got to grips with the content of the various subjects, I quickly found that I was most interested in microbiology. The inspirational lecturers taught me about the huge impact that these tiny life forms have; essential for our survival, but so often responsible for our demise.

During my time at Kent I discovered that I enjoyed working in the lab. I also found that the detective-like nature of research suited me perfectly. With this in mind I sought out a summer studentship at Imperial College. Here I worked with the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, trying to discover how it dodged the immune system. I returned to Kent for my final year and this experience set me up well for my final year project, which I enjoyed so much. The passion and support shown by my supervisor made me decide that I must pursue my studies further. In September 2013 I began my PhD at the University of Sussex, studying viruses, and I am incredibly excited about this. Without my experience at Kent I wouldn’t be prepared for this difficult challenge, and certainly wouldn’t be confident of my ability to rise to it.

Academic achievement is all very well, but Kent also offered me a very active social life, with a huge amount of societies and sports clubs to be involved in. This aspect of Kent life really sets Kent apart from other universities, generating well balanced students with life skills as well as social skills and I am so pleased I chose to study there.

Using fluorine to study protein-ligand binding

 Dr. Mark Howard, Reader in Biological NMR Spectroscopy, comments on a recently published article describing a new approach to studying proteins. 

5F-bprx“Proteins are one of the most important biological molecules that exist and drive basic biology as well as being responsible for many cellular disease processes.   My group designs new and interesting methods to study proteins in order to understand how they work.  Our recent article describes how we have labeled a protein with a fluorine atom and watched how the properties of the fluorine atom changed as the protein binds a molecular ligand.  Cell molecules communicate and function through these binding events between ligands and proteins and this is also the process by which pharmaceutical drug molecules interact with proteins to manage illnesses and diseases. Our method of using fluorine as a marker on the protein to follow this process provides a new approach to observing cell molecules and drug screening in action at the molecular level.”

Dr. Howard is a key member of our teaching team, bringing his expertise to teaching the structure and function of proteins and the roles of magnetic resonance in biology and medicine.

Curtis-Marof, Doko, Rowe, Richards, Williamson and Howard: 19F NMR spectroscopy monitors ligand binding to recombinantly fluorine-labelled b’x from human protein disulphide isomerase (hPDI). Org. Biomol. Chem. (2014), 12, 3808.