Pint of Science – The evolution of feet, the brain and masturbation

Dr Rebecca Jones board picturefrom the School of Life Sciences recently hosted the Pint of Science event on evolution recently at the Shipping Forecast. Here’s what she had to say:

When I was asked to host a night for the recent Pint of Science event in Liverpool I jumped at the chance. I’d been to a couple already, Manchester and Exeter, and thoroughly enjoyed them. Pint of Science aims to bring science to local pubs where the public can listen to researchers describing their work. There’s normally a theme for each city, with Liverpool covering Our Body, Beautiful Mind and Atoms to Galaxies. As a lecturer in the School of Life Sciences I was hosting the ‘Evolution of feet, the brain and masturbation’ at the Shipping Forecast on the 15th May.

Alongside a team of volunteers (Georgia Drew, Amy Eacock, Chloe Heys and Jo Griffin) and a willing photographer for the evening (Lukasz Lukomski), we had our evening planned. As the public entered the venue, the basement of the Shipping Forecast, they had a chance to fill in the three quizzes set by our three fantastic speakers in the hope of winning some Pint of Science prizes. These included matching the footprint to the nationality, guessing which brain belonged to which animal and pairing animal’s with their penises.

 

After the welcome and thanking of the sponsors, eLife, we started with our first talk by Dr Kris D’Aout on the evolution of the foot.

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Kris discussed his work examining locomotion and the use of shoes in various countries, particularly India. Although it seems Kris struggles with volunteers here in the UK!

 

He even showed a video of a robot having to meander around some walking humans! Kris was met with a barrage of questions from the audience, including some asking advice on wearing slippers around the house!

 

Next up we had Dr Tom Butts who spoke on the evolution of the brain and he even managed to rope in some keen volunteers to demonstrate the formation of the spinal cord.

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Tom then received some rather tough and philosophical questions about brain development and dinosaurs which got everyone thinking!

 

We then had a break in which people replenished their drinks but also got to listen to three excellent 2 minute talks from researchers. Jennifer Mitchell, Elinor Chapman and Angela Hackett (L to R) all described their research without the use of props or slides to an enthralled audience who eventually voted Elinor the winner!

 

Our final talk, and headline act, was Dr Tom Price who spoke about the evolution of masturbation across animal groups.

 

Tom mostly spoke about sex and masturbation in birds although had some interesting theories on whether masturbation occurred in dinosaurs!! Tom said, “People seemed to enjoy my speculations on solo sexual behaviour in ducks and dinosaurs.” However, he was more surprised that “Some members of the public were surprisingly good at identifying weird animal genitals.”

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Following some entertaining questions and prize giving, the conversations moved upstairs where people were keen to find out more about feet, the brain and most importantly, masturbation.

I’d like to say thank you to the speakers and all the volunteers that helped on the night! There was a lot of organising but it made for a memorable event!

Science week in Mosspits Lane primary school, 6-7 March 2017

As part of her honours project Mary Roughley visited Mosspits Lane Primary School in Wavertree, Liverpool, during Science week. She has spent an afternoon with each year 6 class and engaged with the pupils on topics such as scales in the universe, the concept and calculation of magnification and the power of using microscopy in biology. As part of her honours project, Mary has planned the session and developed the supporting worksheets and instruction protocols. After a short presentation, the whole class went out onto the playground to collect their own live samples to view under the microscope, the class were then split into three groups to rotate between the three exercises that were organised. The most popular activity was collecting and viewing their samples. The pupils were given magnifying glasses and also had access to the Zeiss stemi labscope to enable them to examine their specimens. They collected insects, worms, leafs, bread crumb, aphids, hairs…They really enjoyed this activity and were fascinated and very excited by what they could see with a microscope: worms digestive tubes, tiny unsuspected hairs on insect legs and “a starry night sky” (salt imaged with transmitted light)!

The pupils also made their own magnifier using water in petri dishes. They learnt how to calculate magnification and used this knowledge to calculate and compare the magnification of a magnifying glass and the magnifier that they made. They realised that their magnifier made with a drop of water was as good as a commercial magnifying glass.

For the third activity, the pupils used the schools computers and an online programme to learn more about scales. The software showed objects of different sizes ranging from galaxies to a proton nucleus. This activity reinforced the idea that microscopes are essentials to biologists, as many things are much too small to be seen with the naked eye. This is what Mary says about her experience: “I received excellent feedback from the pupils. They thoroughly enjoyed the session and some mentioned that they would like to become biologists. They particularly enjoyed using the microscope and collecting their samples and a number of pupils said that the only bad part of the session was packing away! As a proof of the success of the half-day, the teachers had to fight for the children to go out at playtime. They preferred observing their samples under the microscope. I have personally really enjoyed delivering the sessions, I found the experience very rewarding especially when the pupils said they wanted to be biologists! The experience has also made me consider teaching as a career.” This is what the children wrote about the session: “‘I wish the session was longer!!; I liked seeing the intestines in the worm, it was gross but cool!; The bacteria in the pond water was really cool.” It was a very enjoyable experience at all levels: for the children, the teachers, the undergraduate student involved and me, the academic supervisor. Thank you to Mosspits Lane to have worked with us on this project.

Violaine Sée, IIB

Brainiology Event

Brainiology Event

Guest Post : Tom Butts, University of Liverpool

The School of Life Sciences held a ‘making the brain’ workshop in the Liverpool World Museum on Saturday 21st January as part of the ‘Meet the Scientists: Brainiacs’ day. Members of the public (and more to the point, their kids) came along and had a go at a number of activities all designed to get people thinking about the brain, how it works, and how it has evolved.

The first activity was to ‘build a brain’, where people had to assemble a 3D life-size anatomical model of the human brain. The second was ‘evolving the brain’ and involved arranging a number of animal photographs on a large phylogeny (of vertebrates). The final part was to try and match up the pictures of the animals’ brains to the correct animal on the phylogeny as a way to think about how brains have evolved. I had some cracking volunteers, including postdocs, PhD students, Masters’ students, and undergrad students from across the biological diaspora in Liverpool, and it was a cracking day had by all. Though knackering. I now have even vaster levels of respect for primary school teachers.

Speed (dating) Science Careers

On the 19th January, 40 Year 12 students from Life Sciences UTC visited Life Sciences to take part in a Speed Science event with 5 PhD students from IIB.  This was part of their Build My Future Festival.

Small groups of students spent 5 minutes listening to a PhD student talk about their research before being given 5 minutes to ask questions on things such as the PhD student’s research, what university is like? What being a PhD student is like? Which degree programmes the PhD students had taken? before moving to the next PhD student to start the process again. Using this approach the students were able to speak to and ask lots of questions to a 5 different PhD students in a short space of time

The students were really engaged and asking lots of questions, whilst it gave the PhD students chance to practise their science communication.

Thanks to Tushar Piyush, Matthew Agwae, Hammed Badmos, Gospel Nwikue and Jonathan Temple for volunteering to help out at this event

Postcard from Khon Kaen, Thailand – Eddy Spofford and Charlotte Price (MBiolSci students from the Institute of Integrative Biology)

Cholangiocarcinoma (CCA) is more prevalent in Southeast Asian countries compared to the western world, where cases of CCA are rare. Opisthorchis viverrini (OV) infection (opisthorchiasis) is the associated cause of this increase of cases in CCA, and rates of high infection with OV correlate with high CCA occurrence. In the Northeastern Isaan region of Thailand, OV-infection is endemic – this region also suffers high levels of CCA. OV may be transmitted by eating raw or undercooked fish in foods such as such as ‘koi pla’. After consumption, the OV parasite resides in the duodenum, the liver and surrounding bile ducts and can live for up to 20 years. Infection is asymptomatic, making CCA difficult to detect until it presents in its terminal stages. For these reasons, OV is classed as a type 1 carcinogen.

As part of our integrated masters final year project and internship, Charlotte and I are observing the sustained immune response towards OV – one of several contributors to the development of CCA. As part of a Newton Fund project funded by the British Council, we have been conducting our research in the Tropical Disease Research Laboratory (TDRL),  part of Khon Kaen University. So far, we have enjoyed integrating ourselves into a completely new culture and working in a lab with more independence than we have had before. So far it has been an exciting and rewarding experience. TDRL provides a lot of opportunities for international students, so whilst we are submerged in Thai culture we have also been fortunate to meet people from all across the world. This is in addition to making discoveries along the way in the lab. Knowing that our research will contribute towards efforts to reducing OV-infection and CCA mortalities is very humbling.

TDRL developed the “Lawa Model” several years ago and introduced this to Lawa villages 6 years ago. This model aims to educate people about the dangers of OV and eating potentially contaminated fish. Health volunteers are responsible for screening of patients to detect OV and administering praziquantel, as well as other non-OV health issues. They are also required to examine stool samples and educate locals as part of the free education programme in local schools, or ‘door to door’ educating. The health volunteers are key in maintaining the health and awareness of the local communities, whether it be through interpretive dance, adaptations of popular Thai songs or handing out leaflets.

The Lawa Model education programme in schools is free. Before the model was introduced, an average of 10% of children were OV-positive. Now, most schools around the Lawa Region can boast 0% infection. The Model encourages education about OV as part of the school curriculum by rewarding them with certificates. This is promising for future generations that are much less likely to suffer from CCA.

The Lawa Model adopts the ‘EcoHealth’ approach which means a transdisciplinary approach, where experts from different scientific disciplines such as conchology, ichthyology, parasitology, biochemistry and veterinary medicine that target each stage of OV’s lifecycle.  A major failing in previous attempts has been lack of sustained awareness and implementation of control programmes. The Lawa Model has attempted to solve this by encouraging and educating stake holders including local officials, monks, village leaders, schools and the previously mentioned health volunteers who are also responsible for providing regular health checkups for the villagers and checking for OV-infection.

On our visit to Lawa Lake, we saw for ourselves the success of the model, where it was very clear that the majority of people now had a clear understanding of how OV is transmitted. Before the model was introduced six years ago, OV-infection in the human populations in this area was 60%, but this has now fallen to less than 10%. OV-infection in fish has fallen from 70% to <1% and snails infected with OV have dropped to less than 0.2%. As a result of this success, the TDR team are now planning to introduce the Lawa Model into different provinces within Thailand and other neighbouring countries. Charlotte and I recently visited Kalasin, a province nearby to Khon Kaen, which is in very early stages of Lawa Model implementation. It was very eye-opening to see how unaware some people still are in Thailand despite the threat of this disease. However, due to the Lawa Model’s previous success it is likely villages in Kalasin will have the same promising results.

The TDR team from KKU often travels to local Lawa Villages to hold talks about the dangers of OV and explain how it is transmitted. Ultrasound screening is also performed to determine levels of liver complication in patients. Blood samples are also taken from the field and used as part of research about the pathology of OV infection, which precedes CCA. As part of my and Charlotte’s research, we have analysed these blood samples through various immunological assays. Our research will contribute to the current hypothesis that people with a more aggressive immune response are more susceptible to the development of CCA.

The recent ‘National agenda against liver fluke and cancer’ has made clear its aim to remove OV from Thailand in the next 10 years and reduce the number of CCA mortalities. The Lawa Model is a perfect example of how constant attention and support to communities can reduce the infection rate of OV. For this to happen on a national scale, the government must become involved on a permanent level to guarantee replication of the Lawa Model’s success.

After 3 months here, Charlotte and I are continuing to enjoy both the science and the fun that comes with Thai culture. We are fortunate to be part of such a worthwhile project and hope our time here will be beneficial to both ourselves, and the fight against OV and CCA.

Top L-R: Dr Kanin Salao and Eddy processing patient blood samples in the lab; Eddy and Charlotte with Prof Steven Edwards and Dr Helen Wright, who lead the University of Liverpool collaboration with TDRL, and Dr Kanin Salao from TDRL prior to them leaving for Khon Kaen in July; Eddy and Charlotte with other TDRL students paying respects to Prof Banchob Sripa (centre) on “Teachers Day”.

Bottom L-R: Community outreach program in Kalasin; Charlotte carrying out neutrophil isolations in the lab; OV parasite under the microscope.

 

Christmas lectures

Each year we are welcoming students from various secondary schools to our Christmas lectures. This year was once again a success:

Thanks to Jay Hinton (“It’s amazing you’re not dead yet”), Dada Pisconti (“The secret life of stem cells”) and James Hartwell (“Plants to save the world”) for their inspiring talks and thanks to our young visitors for coming.

Earlier version of Jay’s talk:

ENTHUSE – working with teachers

By Luciane V. Mello

One way we can contribute to young people’s enthusiasm for science is by working with their teachers, e.g. through continuing professional development schemes like STEM Insight.

Last February in partnership with the Biochemical Society we received Maria Saeed, from Blackburn College, for her Insight into University experience placement.

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Maria Saeed

The week was a great experience and I am now putting into practice what I have learnt. For example, I am working on developing a numeracy skills pack for all learners, and I am hoping to do several practical sessions in the same format I saw at the university that worked very well… I believe the scheme has been invaluable in developing my own teaching practice and the links between the college and Liverpool University in the long-term.

 

I’m delighted to report that Maria Saeed was nominated for the ENTHUSE Further Education Award, an event organised by STEM Learning and the Wellcome Trust to recognise the impact that teachers and technicians have on their pupils, colleagues, schools, colleges and peers.  I would like to thank all members of staff who helped me to offer Maria a wonderful experience during her week in the Department of Biochemistry (IIB) and in the School of Life Sciences: Amal Abdulkadir, Fabia Allen, Peter Alston, Andy Bates, Rob Beynon, Elaine Connor, Caroline Dart, Claire Eyers, Pat Eyers, Karen Fitzsimons, Blair Grubb, Phil Harrison, Keith Hatton, Joscelyn Sarsby, Jerry Turnbull, Susanne Voelkel and Mark Wilkinson.

A successful team work! We are now prepared for other teacher visits so if you are interested, get in touch.