Research Seminar: Proteomics, epigenetics, antigenic variation and evolution of the nucleus

Professor Mark Field Division of Biological Chemistry and Drug Discovery, University of Dundee

Wednesday 1st October, 4.00 p.m., Jennison Lecture Theatre

The control of gene expression, and more significantly gene cohorts, requires tight transcriptional coordination and is an essential feature of probably all cells. In higher eukaryotes, the mechanisms used involve controlled modifications to both local and global DNA environments, principally through changes in chromatin structure as well as cis-element-driven mechanisms. Although the mechanisms regulating chromatin in terms of transcriptional permissiveness and the relation to developmental programmes and responses to the environment are becoming better understood for animal and fungal cells, it is only just beginning to become clear how these processes operate in other taxa, including the trypanosomatids. Recent advances in understanding this process in lower eukaryotes, how this can relate to disease and what it can tell us about the evolution of the nucleus will be discussed.

More details are at


Ribosome movement, information processing and the language of life

LeverhulmeLife requires information transfer from nucleic acids to proteins. This involves the physical movement of molecular decoding machines (ribosomes) along linear nucleic acid templates (mRNAs). Ribosome movement, information processing, and the resulting control of protein levels are inseparably linked key determinants of cell health and disease. Dr. Tobias von der Haar from the Kent Fungal Group in the School of Biosciences was recently awarded a Leverhulme Trust Project Grant to use both computational and experimental approaches for studying how coordinated ribosome movement on mRNA templates creates a functioning “language of life”.These investigations will shed new light on central biological information transfer processes, and will inform our ability to manipulate biological information transfer in synthetic biology applications.






Best in the UK for student satisfaction

The 2014 National Student Survey has recognised the School of Biosciences as one of the very best places to study in the UK. The School was ranked first for Biochemistry, third for Biomedical Science, and ninth for Biology, with overall student satisfaction of 100%, 99% and 96% respectively. Our degrees also ranked first in individual categories of the survey, including teaching quality, academic support, personal development, and organisation and management.

Our students go on to become some of the country’s most employable graduates: we are placed in the top 20 for career prospects in the Guardian University Guide 2014. Coupled with Kent’s status as a top-20 university, this makes the School an excellent place to study the biological sciences.


Ebola: Progressing towards a cure

ebola virusDr Jeremy Rossman, School of Biosciences Lecturer in Virology, was recently interviewed on BBC Radio Kent about the deadly Ebola virus.

Western Africa is currently experiencing the world’s worst documented outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, with over 1700 suspected cases and 932 deaths. Ebola is a highly pathogenic virus that can kill up to 80 % of the people it infects, though it is only spread by direct blood or bodily fluid contact.  Presently there are no approved vaccines or therapeutics for Ebola infection and current medical practice is limited to quarantine and supportive care.

Since Ebola virus was first discovered in 1976 there has been much research aimed at understanding the virus works and how it causes disease. However, this research has yet to translate into any licensed treatments because research on Ebola virus is hindered by safety concerns and a broad lack of funding.  Whilst, many laboratories can work with individual components of the virus, research on live virus is limited to a select few high-containment laboratories around the world.  Even for those select laboratories, there is a shortage of research funding as the virus is considered low risk and thus a low priority funding area for many developed counties.

Despite these limitations, there are currently several vaccines that have been developed that may prevent infection or mitigate the disease if given post-exposure. There are also multiple new therapeutic agents in various stages of development, including a treatment from the Canadian company Tekmira that has been undergoing initial human safety trials in the US.  It is unlikely that any of these vaccines or therapeutics will be ready for use during this current outbreak.  However, many developed countries are now questioning the risk Ebola virus poses and what can be done to enhance security.  With additional research funds, it is likely that we will have several vaccines or therapies available to treat Ebola virus infections in the decade to come.  These treatments may not completely cure the virus, but it may be possible to significantly reduce the loss of life in a future outbreak.

image of an Ebola virus by courtesy of Frederick A. Murphy and the US CDC

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.