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!

Research in the Rainforest at Wolbachia 2016

Research in the Rainforest at Wolbachia 2016

Guest post by Georgia Drew (@GC_Drew), PhD student in the Institute of Integrative Biology, University of Liverpool 

Research in the Rainforest at Wolbachia 2016
28th June – 3rd July, 2016, Queensland, Australia

This year the beautiful Lamington National Park was home to the 9th International Wolbachia conference, a biennial meeting focusing on the reproductive parasite, Wolbachia, and other notable endosymbionts of arthropods and nematodes. Nestled in the sub-tropical rainforest, over 80 delegates from across the globe assembled to present work on the evolution, ecology, genomics and cell biology of symbioses.3-2

Mornings began with the bustle of bush turkeys and bower birds at breakfast, before full days of talks and posters set amongst the canopied hills of the park. Here I had the opportunity to present, at my first international conference, on the intriguing role of a symbiont, known as Arsenophonus, in honey bee colonies. Arsenophonus, just like Wolbachia, is a genus of bacteria that infects many Arthropod species. It is capable of a diverse range of interactions with different host species, from reproductive parasitism right through to nutrient provisioning.  My talk touched on the prevalence, transmission and phylogeny of Arsenophonus in UK bees and generated some interesting questions on the potential roles of Varroa mite and bacteriophage.

The reputation of Wolbachia as an adept manipulator of host biology attracts many to its associated phenotypes of feminisation, parthenogenesis and male killing – to name just a few. This year was no exception, with exciting reports of the discovery of new Wolbachia induced phenotypes, alongside the resolution of old ones. The genetic basis for cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI) appears to be finally unravelling with the identification of two Wolbachia prophage genes that induce CI like defects in Drosophila, while in Eurema butterflies there is increasing evidence Wolbachia can cause meiotic drive. Updates were also heard from the ‘Eliminate Dengue’ program, which uses Wolbachia infected mosquitoes to reduce vector competence for dengue virus. A bio control strategy that may also be deployable against Zika virus, and highlights the ability of symbiont research to resonate on a humanitarian level.

The conference was an exceptional opportunity to meet members of this relatively small field, and engage in discussion on many of the unresolved aspects of symbiont biology. Inspiration aside, the week was also incredibly useful for improving my understanding of an array of approaches and techniques that were showcased by speakers, some of which I look forward to transferring to my own work. As the conference came to a close, the more musically gifted among us performed a Beatles inspired tribute to Wolbachia – “we all live in a filarial nematode”, and I headed off to the east coast in search of kangaroos and humpback whales. I am very grateful to the Michael Pugh Thomas Fund and the Genetics Society, whose grants enabled my attendance at the conference.

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