George C. Williams Prize awarded to 3 CISoR members

Congratulations go to three CISoR members from the School of Anthropology and Conservation, who were recently awarded the prestigous George C. Williams Prize, from the International Society for Evolution, Medicine and Public Health.

The prize was awarded to Sarah Myers, Dr Oskar Burger and Dr Sarah Johns for their paper entitled “Postnatal depression and reproductive success in modern, low-fertility contexts“.

Further details of the award scheme can be found here.

 

Chimpanzees modify grooming behavior when near higher ranking members

Research by Dr Nicholas Newton-Fisher from the University of Kent has found chimpanzees modify their interactions with other chimpanzees if higher ranking members of their community are nearby.

Dr Newton-Fisher, based in the School of Anthropology and Conservation (SAC), and Stefano Kaburu, from the Department of Population Health and Reproduction, School of Veterinary Medicine, UC Davis, University of California and formerly of SAC, observed grooming interactions between members of a community of chimpanzees in the Budongo Forest Reserve in Western Uganda.

Grooming plays a key role in chimp interactions as it helps reduce stress and remove parasites. Within chimp groups lower ranking members often groom higher ranking members in the hope of receiving benefits such as protection, acceptance and the hope of receiving reciprocal grooming.

However, Dr Newton-Fisher’s findings suggest that if another chimpanzee with a higher rank than the chimp being groomed is nearby, the grooming chimp will stop far sooner than if not.

It appears chimpanzees do this so they do not invest too much time grooming with one chimp if there is a risk the chimp being groomed will not reciprocate but instead look to groom the nearby higher-ranking chimp.

This echoes prior research by Dr Newton-Fisher which found that if a larger number of other chimpanzees are nearby then, regardless of rank, the grooming chimp would usually stop grooming sooner than if there were no other chimps nearby, or a small number.

However, this latest research focused on a group with a more defined social hierarchy, so it was the rank of the nearby chimps that was of more concern to those grooming, rather than the number of others nearby.

Taken together the findings challenge the ‘relationship model’ theory that, like other primates, chimps engage in grooming on the basis of prior social interactions.

Instead it appears they are motivated by the circumstances in which they engage in the grooming and the possible benefits they will derive, giving weight to the more economic-orientated ‘biological markets’ theory of primate social interactions.

The research has been published in the latest edition of Animal Behaviour titled Grooming decisions under structural despotism: the impact of social rank and bystanders among wild male chimpanzees.

Study of premature babies has implications for future treatment

Research carried out by the University of Kent with doctors on the neonatal unit at the William Harvey Hospital and Brunel University have provided further insight into the biology of premature birth, with findings that may have implications for treating premature babies.

The results of the research are now published in an article entitled Preterm infants have significantly longer telomeres than their term born counterparts in PLOS One.

The team from the School of Biosciences led by Professor Darren Griffin set out to look for a genetic marker that might identify “at risk” children early in life so that they could embark on monitoring and treatment at an earlier opportunity.

Focusing on the telomeres – the caps at the end of the chromosomes that degrade as people age, they compared the length of telomeres in premature babies compared to babies born at the expected time.

Three groups of infants were studied:

1. 25 babies who were born prematurely (but were assayed at the time they should have been born)

2. 22 premature babies sampled at birth

3. 31 babies (sampled at birth) born at the expected time.

The expectation was that the first group would, genetically, appear more “aged” i.e. have shorter telomeres than the others. The findings were somewhat of a surprise in that, although there was some evidence of telomeres shortening over time in the premature babies, it was the normally born ones that had the shortest telomeres of all.

These results suggest that other, as yet undiscovered, factors may influence telomere length in premature infants and raises the intriguing idea that telomere shortening rate may be influenced by the degree of prematurity of the baby.

In any event, identification of genetic differences between premature and term-born infants may identify those at most risk and hence at greater need of treatment to mitigate problems that could occur later in life.

There are well-established problems associated with premature birth including respiratory, learning and developmental disorders, as well as the more recently discovered problems inlcuding hypertension, insulin resistance and altered body fat distribution. These latter problems may suggest early ageing in premature babies.

Studies suggest that these may persist into adult life, essentially mimicking early ageing and also posing a significant public health concern.

###

Preterm infants have significantly longer telomeres than their term born counterparts by Vimal Vasu, Kara Turner, Shermi George, John Greenall, Predrag Slijepcevic and Darren Griffin is published in in PLOS One.

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0180082

Doctors, Conscience and Abortion Law and Practice

This event, held on 29 June 2017, brought together academics from a range of disciplines, graduate students, providers of abortion services and campaigners, to discuss abortion law and changes in abortion practice. The event was part of dissemination work for a Kent University Faculty of Social Sciences Research Fund Award, given to Ellie Lee and Sally Sheldon, for a project ‘Abortion Doctors, Professional Identity and the Law’.

 

Dr Ellie Lee

With a backdrop of the 50th Anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act, and a vote at the British Medical Association Annual Conference two days previously to support the decriminalisation of abortion, participants at the event discussed: the history of the British Abortion Law; research about the motivations and experience of doctors who ‘do’, that is those who provide abortion; and research about those who ‘don’t’, with a focus on conscientious objection.

Participants were particularly privileged, at the start of the event, to hear from Malcolm Potts, a pioneer of abortion provision and law reform in Britain, and from US colleagues Dr Lori Freedman and Professor Wendy Chavkin.

Thanks to Kent Law School and British Pregnancy Advisory Service for their financial support for the event.

 

More about the event here:

 

Key Findings Document: ‘Doctors Who Provide Abortion: Their Values and Professional Identity’

 

Published work by presenters

Potts, M. and Campbell, M. ‘History of Contraception’

http://www.24grammata.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Malcolm-Potts-and-Martha-Campbell-24grammata.com_.pdf

Sheldon, S. ‘British Abortion Law’

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1468-2230.12180/epdf

Greasley, K. ‘Arguments About Abortion’

https://global.oup.com/academic/product/arguments-about-abortion-9780198766780?cc=gb&lang=en&

Bristow, J. ‘The Sociology of Generations’

http://www.palgrave.com/in/book/9781137601353

Freedman, L. (with Weitz and Kimport) ‘The Stratified Legitimacy of Abortions’

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0022146516669970

Lee, E. ‘Constructing Abortion as a Social Problem’

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0959353516678010

Lohr, P. (with Fjerstad, De Silva and Lyus) ‘Abortion’

http://www.bmj.com/content/348/bmj.f7553

Chavkin, W. (with Swedlow and Fifield) ‘Regulation of Conscientious Objection to Abortion’

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5473038/

Neal, M. (with Fovargue) ‘‘In Good Conscience’: Conscience-based exemptions and proper medical treatment’

https://academic.oup.com/medlaw/article-abstract/23/2/221/1325917

Mishtal, J. (with de Zordo and Anton) ‘A Fragmented Landscape’

http://www.berghahnbooks.com/title/DeZordoFragmented

Furedi, A. ‘The Moral Case for Abortion’

http://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9781137411181

Mammalian Genome Mapping Grant awarded to Kent University

Professor Darren Griffin and Dr Becky O’Connor, in collaboration with Dr Denis Larkin at the Royal Veterinary College, London have recently been awarded a 3-year BBSRC grant for a study entitled “Rapid reconstruction of reference chromosome-level mammalian genome assemblies and insight into the mechanisms of gross genomic rearrangement”

We live in an era in which the genomes of new species are being sequenced all the time. The most modern ways to sequence DNA have many advantages over older approaches (the prominent one being a vastly reduced cost) but a problem that arises each time the genome of a new species is sequenced is that assigning large blocks of sequence to an overall genomic “map” can be problematic and/or very expensive. It’s a little like finding your location on Google Maps but not being able to “zoom out” to establish where that position is in relation to the whole country. In essence, the aim of this project is to rectify this problem at one fifth of the current cost. Using our experience with birds we have developed a high-throughput approach and the tools for assigning the sequences to their proper positions in chromosomes. This involves our own adaptations to a technique called “FISH” that can take the data from sequenced genomes and visualize directly blocks of DNA sequence as they appear in their rightful place in the genome.

Sequences of the pig genome visualised on chromosomes using fluorescent probes (FISH)

 

In this study, we will focus our attention on 25 newly sequenced mammal species. More importantly however we will provide the means through which this can be achieved for any of the 5,000 living mammalian species. Mammals are important to our lives in that many are models for human disease and development and are critical to agriculture (both meat and milk). Others are threatened or endangered and, with impending global warming, molecular tools for the study of their ecology and conservation are essential. Our combined efforts have also developed computer-based browser methods to compare the overall structure of one genome with another, directly visualizing the similarities and differences between the genomes of several animals at a time, something we can share widely amongst the scientific community and general public via the world wide web. The differences between mammalian genomes arose through changes that happened during evolution. One of the main aims of this project is to find out how this occurred and what are implications of these changes. We have a number of ideas such as we think there may be different “signatures” that classify why blocks of genes tend to stay together during evolution. Armed with this information, we fully intend to take it out into the world. The devices that we will develop can be adapted for the screening of individual animals for genomic rearrangements that may cause e.g. breeding problems. Moreover, the resources we will develop provide a source for public information and student learning through a dedicated, outwardly-facing web site. We have received overwhelming support from numerous laboratories all over the world who are interested in using the resources that we will develop to ask biological questions of their own. For this reason, we feel that this project will help us understand evolution in mammals and contribute to establishing the UK as a central international hub of mammalian genomics.

Doctors, Conscience and Abortion Law and Practice Workshop

This is a one-day workshop hosted by the University of Kent, as a collaboration between the Centre for the Interdisciplinary Study of Reproduction (CISoR), the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies (CPCS) and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.

Thursday 29th June 2017

Ground Floor, Cornwallis East Building, University of Kent, Canterbury

Organisers: Dr Ellie Lee (SSPSSR) and Professor Sally Sheldon (Kent Law School), University of Kent

This event is one of a number taking place during 2017, the year of the 50th Anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act. In common with other events, its aim is to promote critical reflection about this legislation. In the academic literature, one widely commented-on feature of the British abortion law is its ‘medicalisation’; that is, the centrality given by law to medical opinion in deciding on access to abortion procedures. While this feature of the abortion legislation has generated a great deal of academic analysis and discussion in the disciplines of law, ethics and sociology, research and discussion about the opinions and experiences of doctors themselves is notably, and curiously, absent from research. The main purpose of this event is to place ‘medical opinion’, as it operates in practice at the centre of a discussion about abortion provision.

The programme takes ‘conscience’ as its core theme. Part of the discussion will consider conscientious objection; its place in abortion legislation (in the 1967 Abortion Act, and in legislation in other jurisdictions) and the issues raised by its invocation by doctors as they ‘opt out’ of abortion provision. In addition to this consideration of ‘doctors who don’t’, however, we will also focus on ‘doctors who do’ through discussion about research that considers the experience of doctors who work to provide abortions.

  • What does this work suggest about the relation between the law, and the practice of abortion provision?
  • How do doctors who provide abortion think about the work they do and its place as part of medical care?
  • What tensions and difficulties mark the present relation between a now 50 year old law and the experience of those legally obliged to make ‘good faith opinions’ about access to abortion?

The day will begin with a presentation by Professor Sally Sheldon about the history of medical opinion in the development of British Abortion law, based on work for the project ‘The Abortion Act: A Biography’. The programme includes discussion about research considering abortion provision in England based on new research led by Dr Ellie Lee, but we will also widen the lens and benefit from a comparative focus. We are delighted to be able to include Dr Lori Freedman and Professor Wendy Chavkin from the US as presenters.

The day is also designed to encourage participation from Postgraduate Researchers with an interest in any aspect of the provision of abortion and contraception. Postgraduate students are invited to contribute Poster Presentations to run alongside the main programme. This part of the day is organised by Verity Pooke (PhD Candidate, University of Kent, vp238@kent.ac.uk).

Participants

Jennie Bristow, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Canterbury Christ Church University

Wendy Chavkin, Professor Emerita Population and Family Health and Obstetrics and Gynecology

Sylvia De Zordo, Senior Researcher, ERC Starting Grant and Ramón y Cajal Fellow, University of Barcelona, Dept. of Anthropology

Lori Freedman, Assistant Professor, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences, Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health, University of California

Ann Furedi, CEO British Pregnancy Advisory Service

Kate Greasley, Lecturer in Law University College London

Lesley Hoggart, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Health and Social Care at the Open University

Ellie Lee, Director, Centre for Parenting Culture Studies, University of Kent

Patricia Lohr, Medical Director, British Pregnancy Advisory Service

Joanna Mishtal, Associate Professor, Cultural/Medical Anthropology, University of Central Florida

Mary Neal, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Strathclyde

Malcolm Potts, Bixby Chair, Professor in Population and Family Planning, University of California

Sally Sheldon, Professor of Medical Law, University of Kent

Christy Zink, Assistant Professor, University Writing Program, The George Washington University

Pig Breeders Round Table 2017

In April, 70 delegates of the great and the good in the world of pig breeding congregated at the University of Kent campus for the Pig Breeders Round Table – a small, friendly bi-annual meeting. Over the past 40 years this meeting has built up an enviable reputation as one of the best and friendliest international meetings in livestock genetics.

The scientific programme gave both academic and industrial scientists an excellent opportunity to present and discuss new results with an informed and interested audience.  Highlights included the pig genome sequence update, an update on porcine IVF – a route to global sustainability (a join presentation by Canterbury’s two Universities) as well as talks on behavioural deprivation, human trends in animal protein consumption, sexed semen, genome editing, predicting breeding values and sperm morphology. The social programme included a meat tasting session and a lovely dinner at the Marine Hotel, Whitstable.

This year the meeting celebrated its 40 anniversary, always being held in Kent – from its inception at Wye College then, since 2008 here at the University of Kent. Especial thanks go out to the sponsors, JSR Genetics, Topigs Norsvin and Genus.

Scientists overcome pig genome flaw

University scientists, working with colleagues from the genetics research industry, have developed a new genetic screening device and protocol that helps pig breeding.

Through her work, Dr Rebecca O’Connor, a member of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies of Reproduction (CISoR) from the School of Biosciences, found previously undiscovered, fundamental flaws in the pig genome, the results of which have contributed to improved mapping of the pig genome.

In pigs – which provide 43% of the meat consumed worldwide – a chromosome defect can affect fertility.

With each pig producing as many as 14 piglets per litter, a faulty chromosome can reduce this by as much as half, with massive economic costs to the producer.

Dr O’Connor’s research, carried out in the Griffin Laboratory, has led to the development of chromosome screening devices for both pigs and cattle and a chromosome screening service to multiple agricultural food providers.

Now with 13 clients in eight different countries, the team are screening hundreds of samples a year, as well as adapting the method to screen for chromosome abnormalities in other species.

The research findings were presented to agricultural industry leaders at the Pig Breeders Round Table Conference, one of the foremost international conferences on livestock genetics, held at the University of Kent in May 2017.

Dr O’Connor, research associate in the School of Biosciences, won the 2017 University Prize for Postgraduate Research in recognition of her ‘exceptional publication record, and achievements far beyond those normally expected of a doctoral student’.

A paper, entitled Isolation of subtelomeric sequences of porcine chromosomes for translocation screening reveals errors in the pig genome assembly (Dr Rebecca O’Connor and Professor Darren Griffin, University of Kent; Dr G Fonseka, Dr M. Lawrie and R Frodsham, Cytocell Ltd, Cambridge; Professor A. L. Archibald, The Roslin Institute, R(D)SVS, University of Edinburgh, Division of Genetics and Genomics, Midlothian; and Dr G. A. Walling, JSR Genetics, Southburn, Driffield, North Humberside), was published in Animal Genetics.

 

https://www.farminguk.com/News/Scientists-develop-new-device-to-overcome-pig-genome-flaw-_46531.html

Advice to pregnant women on drinking ‘patronising and sexist’

Dr Ellie Lee, Director of the University’s Centre for Parenting Culture Studies (CPCS), and member of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies of Reproduction (CISoR) says advice given to pregnant women about drinking may cause more harm than good.

Speaking at a conference in Canterbury on 19 May, Dr Lee said that official advice about drinking alcohol in pregnancy had gone down an ‘overtly precautionary route’.

Evidence suggesting that the odd drink, or even more than that, has no impact on child outcomes is interpreted as ‘insufficiently robust’ and any level of drinking is now associated with ‘possible harm’, Dr Lee told her audience.

Dr Lee’s speech was covered extensively in the media, including articles in the Guardian and Mirror newspapers and a television news feature on BBC South East.

During her interview, during the main BBC South East 6.30pm news programme, Dr Lee described the government’s advice to pregnant women as ‘patronising’ and ‘sexist’.

Dr Ellie Lee interviewed by BBC South East/Photo: Press Office UoK

The conference, entitled Policing Pregnancy: Who Should be a Mother? was organised jointly by CPCS, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, Birthrights, and Engaging Sociology at Canterbury Christ Church University, which hosted the event.

CISoR Success as Kent Celebrates Research Excellence

CISoR scientists scored well in Kent’s third annual Research Prizes, which took place on 21 April, with three of the 16 awards handed out to staff in recognition of their accomplishments over the last year.

The awards recognised achievements such as publication in top-ranked journals, high citation rates, significant funding awards and impact through public engagement and policy development.

Specifically, the CISoR winners were as follows:

The University Prize for Postgraduate Research was awarded to Dr Becky O’Connor (5th  from right) in recognition of an exceptional publication record, including a potential 4* publication, and achievements far beyond those normally expected of a doctoral student. As part of a project in the Griffin Laboratory Becky O’Connor examined the links between dinosaur and modern avian genomes, using a combination of lab-based and computational means. This allowed the laboratory to learn more about the evolution of bird genomes, and develop new products and processes along the way. The work has proved that a so-called typical avian genome structure became established much earlier than previously thought, about the time that the dinosaurs first emerged. These results were considered so significant that they were accepted by one of the most highly cited journals in the world, Genome Research.  In addition, Becky has been involved in the development of Chromoprobe Multiprobe devices, a pig chromosome infertility screening service, has written 2 small grants (£10,000 each) and been named investigator and co-author on a large BBSRC grant which has recently been funded. In nominating Becky, Prof Darren Griffin stated that, ‘even by the standards of a high-flying academic, this has been an outstanding year, and PhD, for Becky. To get a single 4* paper as a result of a PhD would be considered exceptional. For it to be the centre piece of a suite of 5 papers has me reaching for superlatives. ‘Becky was awarded her PhD “without corrections”, and I know of only one other person who has done this. Such achievement could not have been better deserved.’ Becky previously was a Graduate of the CISoR MSc in Reproductive Medicine: Science and Ethics.

The Faculty of Sciences Prize for Advanced Research was awarded in recognition of Prof Darren Griffin’s (far left) outstanding contribution to the field, his publication and income track record, his impact activity and his achievements in nurturing and facilitating ground-breaking interdisciplinary work. Prof Griffin is a key figure in genomic research and has made significant breakthroughs, such as the development of the first clinical application of a universal test for diagnosing disease in IVF embryos. His publication record, research and innovation income, impact and public engagement activity all attests to his standing and achievements in the field, including over 150 publications in some of the world’s highest impact journals e.g. Science, Nature, Nature Genetics and Genome Research; £6.5m research grant income as principal investigator; the most citations for any academic in the University and the second highest h-index (SciVal); over £1m of innovation funding, the highest for any single academic in the University; the most viewed articles by journalists; and supervising 20 PhD students to completion.  In nominating him for the prize, Prof Alan Thornhill emphasised that ‘an outstanding researcher in his own right, his work in working collaboratively gives the University of Kent incredible international kudos from the point of view of the outside observer, combining excellence in social, scientific and clinical research.’

The University Prize for Advanced Research awarded to Prof Adrian Podoleanu (6th from left) in recognition of outstanding achievements in developing the field of optical coherence tomography (OCT), founding a strong and successful research group, and Prof Podoleanu’s record of internationally leading publications, patent protection and extensive grant income. Prof Podoleanu produced the first en-face OCT image of the human retina in 1996, and has since developed an international reputation in the field. He has attracted more than 30 grants worth over £6m, including three European Research Council awards, two Marie Curie training sites, and three major EPSRC grants.  In nominating him for the Prize, his Head of School Prof Mark Green stated that ‘Prof Adrian Podoleanu is one of the leading physicists in the country. He has developed biomedical optical technology that is treating thousands of patients with eye problems per year worldwide, and has adding millions to the UK economy. ‘He is an example of nurturing interdisciplinary links between specialists in different disciplines in the Faculty of Sciences and of promoting PG education mixed with entrepreneurship. I don’t believe there is anyone in the history of science at the University of Kent that has done more to increase the international research profile of the University. As the Royal Society and the UK government has recognised this so publicly in 2015, he unquestionably deserves accolade from Kent in the form of the University Advanced Research Prize this year.’

The ceremony was hosted by Professor Catherine Richardson from the School of English, and the awards were presented by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation Professor Philippe De Wilde during a gala dinner held at the Darwin Conference Suite at the University’s Canterbury campus.

Professor De Wilde commended the high quality of applications received and congratulated the winners on their success: ‘The nominations highlighted the diversity of research, and the impressive achievements for which Kent academics and students are responsible. Such excellence made selecting sixteen winners particularly difficult, and as well as congratulating the winners I would like to thank all those who put their work forward for consideration. It has shown me how much excellent work is being undertaken, how many publications and grants are being secured, and how many accolades are being won.’

The Research Prizes scheme has generated considerable interest across the University since its launch in 2014 and this year 44 applications from 13 of the University’s Schools were submitted.

Further details of all the prize-winners are available on the Research Prize website.