Meet the Scientists, How Plants See the World

Meet the Scientists, How Plants See the World

This month, a group of research students and postdocs developed an interactive workshop exploring the world of plants. This workshop was taken to two events: one with a local Brownie troop and then to a Meet the Scientists event at the World Museum in Liverpool. We came up with the activities by first identifying interesting facts about plants that we wanted to communicate, and built the activities up from there. The three key things that we highlighted were circadian rhythms, leaf adaptations, and the importance of soil pH.

Circadian rhythms are an internal mechanism that acts like a body clock, which plants use to survive. To introduce this complex concept to a young audience, we created a card pinwheel that showed the times at which different flowers open. This idea was based on the concept garden designed by Carolus Linnaeus in 1751. The pinwheel contained outlined drawings of flowers that could be coloured in by visitors whilst the demonstrator chatted to them about circadian rhythms. Our card Linnaeus clock is available to download here.


To demonstrate that plants can recognise the pH of the soil that they are in, we brought some pH indicator that had been made using red cabbages. Red cabbage indicator is purple at a neutral pH, but can change to bright yellows and pinks on the addition of household substances such at lemon juice or washing powder. Visitors were encouraged to test the pH of a selection of different items, as well as testing soil samples. Photographs of hydrangeas were on display to show how drastic an effect soil pH can have on plants.


To demonstrate leaf adaptations, we took a two pronged approach. For older children and adults, a microscope was available to look at details such as veins and stomata on leaves from a variety of plants including local deciduous trees, an ornamental conifer, and a Christmas cactus. While some of the visitors enjoyed looking at the leaf structures, it became clear that some aphid eggs found on a sycamore leaf was more interesting! For the younger visitors, materials for making leaf rubbings were provided. By making leaf rubbings, we were able to encourage the younger children to look at the leaves more closely and to examine their different shapes. We then cut their leaf rubbings out and attached them to headbands, something which helped draw more people to our table.


Macarons and posters at 13th European Conference on Fungal Genetics

Guest post by Gwen Cowley, PhD student in Functional and Comparative Genomics at the Institute of Integrative Biology 

gwen parisI recently had the opportunity to attend the 13th European Conference on Fungal Genetics (ECFG) in Paris, France.  This amazing opportunity was thanks to the Michael Pugh Thomas Endowment fund and support from the Genomes to Systems (G2S) Research Theme in my Institute.

This year, ECFG13 was aimed at presenting recent advances in fungal genetics and molecular biology, including cellular biology, evolutionary genomics, biotic interactions, systems and synthetic biology, ecogenomics and biotechnology. As an interdisciplinary forum for scientists, from both the academic and industry fields, its aim was to present and discuss the most recent innovations, trends and issues in the field of fungal genetics and molecular biology and over 800 people attended.

As such, the conference provided a fantastic opportunity to showcase our recent developments using PacBio RNA sequencing, as applied to the filamentous fungi, Myceliapthora thermophila. To date, PacBio sequencing has not been applied to filamentous fungi and the sequencing protocols are still widely under development.  We are currently preparing a publication on the applicability of PacBio sequencing for improving genome annotations and applying this to an industry-relevant fungal strain.  ECGF was a great opportunity to showcase our initial results. This work benefits both the academic and industrial field of fungal research, of which both groups of researchers were in attendance at this conference.

During my time in Paris, I had the chance to present a poster on the technical analysis of PacBio RNA sequencing. ECFG was a brilliant platform for the dissemination of our research and techniques to both the academic and industrial fields. Additionally, this research was completed thanks to a Knowledge Exchange Voucher from the Technology Directorate and the University of Liverpool and showcased the services and facilities available within the Centre for Genomic Research.  My poster generated lots of scientific discussion about its advancement for fungal research and sequencing technologies.  As a result, I have made new acquaintances and contacts in the hopes of further collaborations in the future.

macarons and postersFollowing full days of seminars and workshops, my evenings were spent as a tourist in “the most beautiful city in the world” and I was able to indulge in French delicacies. From the panoramic views at the top of the Eifel Tower at sunset, to across the Seine for dinner at traditional French bistros; there is no shortage of things to do in Paris in the spring time.

Audrey Hepburn once said “Paris is always a good idea”, and when paired with fungal genetics, it certainly was!




Royal Society Partnership Grant Daphnia Project – IIB and Liverpool Life Sciences UTC

A Royal Society Partnership Grant project between IIB’s Dr Stewart Plaistow and Liverpool Life Sciences UTC has featured as a case study on the Royal Society website.

“This project will give me transferrable skills, so if I was to do medical biology, I could take the genetics side of this” – Gemma, Liverpool Life Sciences UTC

Biochemical Society Scientific Outreach Grant award for Centre for Proteome Research PostDoc


Dr. Guadalupe Gómez Baena, a postdoctoral research associate in the Centre for Proteome Research in the Institute of Integrative Biology has won a Scientific Outreach Grant from the Biochemical Society to support the costs of running a Science Club titled ‘Learning to think like scientists’ at New Park Primary School. The club will run during the academic year 2016-2017 and is aimed at promoting the understanding of the scientific environment in primary school children.

Engaging children in science at an early stage is important, not only to assure a solid foundation for the future scientific generation, but also to develop significant skills and attitudes important in learning and understanding. The club will demonstrate why science is important and what is it like to work as a scientist, while teaching basic aspects of science and research.

The Centre for Proteome Research is actively involved in a number of activities aimed at disseminating the importance of science.  This activity will be delivered by members of Centre for Proteome Research who are registered as STEM ambassadors.

Endosymbiont talk at Loreto College, Manchester


Department of Evolution, ecology and behaviour student Louise Reynolds recently gave a talk on endosymbionts and here is what she had to say:


‘On Thursday 21st April I visited Loreto College, Manchester to give a talk to around 60 Upper Sixth biology students about endosymbionts. Biology is a very popular option at the college, which has 1000 students taking the subject at A-level.

Endosymbionts, such as Wolbachia are commonly found in insects and other arthropods. They live within the cells of their host and are inherited through females. During my talk I spoke about different aspects of Wolbachia biology.

Wolbachia is able to manipulate the sex determination system of its host, for instance some strains of Wolbachia cause the male offspring of infected females to die. Wolbachia is currently being trialed as a form of biological pest control to halt diseases that are spread by the mosquito Aedes aegypti, such as Dengue Fever, Zika, and Chikungunya. I also spoke about my own research investigating the genetics of rapid evolutionary change in the blue moon butterfly. This butterfly is infected with a strain of Wolbachia that causes male offspring of infected female butterflies to die. The blue moon butterfly has evolved the ability to suppress male-killing so that infected butterflies are able to produce both male and female offspring.

After the talk I had some sandwiches and juice, and spoke to students interested in studying biology at university.’

Sniffing infected insects at PubhD Liverpool

PubhD is a new event that originated in Nottingham and has recently started up in Liverpool which aims to bring scientific research to the general public. At each event, three PhD students have 10 minutes to explain their research to a pub audience in exchange for a couple of pints. This is then normally followed by 20 (or so) minutes of friendly questions. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend the first event but was then ‘head hunted’ on Twitter to speak at their second event which took place on 14th April.

I showed up to The Vines pub near Liverpool Lime Street station where I was met by Kat who runs the operation. There were three of us talking, one on biodiversity and another on infant feeding. After securing my first drink and listening to the first speaker I was up. At the events no powerpoint slides are allowed so I took along a couple of petri dishes of waxworms that were either infected or uninfected with the parasite Heterorhabditis bacteriophora, my study system.

I kicked off with a brief description of how parasites manipulate their hosts in order to increase transmission before delving into the parasites I study.

I was then able to talk about how the parasites I study utilise a number of different methods to avoid predation such as glowing in the dark, smelling and tasting really bad and even turning red. Infected individuals smell quite bad so people had to get quite close to have a sniff!

After my talk I had a lot of questions from the diverse audience of about 30 individuals and returned to my seat. However, upon returning to my table, I discovered that one of the petri dishes was now empty and it turned out my work colleagues had eaten all my uninfected waxworms!

I would recommend this event to other PhD students in IIB and beyond as I had to tailor my talk to a non-academic pub audience, as well as not being able to use slides. I really enjoyed the event and was able to discuss various aspects of my PhD further with interested individuals.

If you’re interested in giving a talk in a friendly atmosphere and challenging yourself not to use slides then check the event out on Twitter: @PubhD_Liverpool and facebook:


by Rebecca Jones