All Hail Our Amphibian Overlords and Ancestors – Jodi Rowley joins Real Scientists

After a big week with Greetchen Diaz featuring some great discussions into novel science pathways, diversity and women in science, we’re returning to the Southern Hemisphere to meet Dr Jodi Rowley (@jodirowley) of the Australia Museum, Sydney.

Most of us would have visited museums as children and marvelled at the collections of artefacts and the fossilised remains of ancient creatures.  While dinosaurs always get the glory (and justifiably so), there is a class of animals that also deserves our veneration: the amphibians.  Long before birds flew and figs grew upon thorn, amphibians evolved as one of the most important intermediaries between land and sea.  Evolving in the Devonian period from lunged-fish, the amphibians evolved into four main groups of modern day species, 90% of which are frogs.  Frogs. How great are frogs? They are important ecological indicators and are also pretty cute.  Apart from frogs, amphibians include salamanders, they of the strange and wondrous ability to grow back limbs.  So amphibians are pretty amazing, and Dr Jodi Rowley has spent many years studying them.

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Here’s Jodi in her own words:

“I grew up in Sydney, am an only child and was always encouraged to pursue my dreams, however corny that sounds. I’m lucky in that it never occurred to me that as a female, I couldn’t pursue a career in field biology. I’m so very fortunate that I grew up in that time and place and with very supportive parents. I lived away from Sydney for 5.5 years, first to Townsville for my PhD ( I was fortunate to have the best amphibian ecology mentor there is in my supervisor Ross Alford), where I got a very significant taste of field work (radio tracking over 100 frogs on the rainforests of North Queensland), then to Southeast Asia. I moved back to Sydney in late 2008 to an awesome job at the Australian Museum. As well as being an amphibian biologist at the museum, I coordinate the Australian Museum Research Institute, which is another excuse to communicate science- that of the other researchers at the museum!

I wish I had a good story as to why I got into science, and specifically into amphibian biology and conservation. I always loved biology at school, and had a love for wildlife and natural places, but also enjoyed  illustration and design. I didn’t actually decide on science as a career until after I finished high school. I got a pretty good mark in my final exams, and enrolled in environmental science at the University of New South Wales. There I got exposed to frogs, and that was it!
 
I broadly understood that biodiversity conservation was something I wanted to pursue, but it wasn’t until I got hands-on experience in the field, working with frogs, that it became a passion, bordering on obsession. I explore local forest looking for amphibians in my spare time- it’s amazing that my passion and career overlap! I probably shouldn’t tell my work this, but I’d still turn up to work in my spare time even if I wasn’t getting paid! 
 
I started conducting field expeditions in Southeast Asia in 2006. I joined a trip in northeastern Cambodia as a bit of a test for me (and for my potential new place of work to test me!). We walked for days through rough terrain, I got a puncture wound through my foot (bamboo was removed from it for the next month!), and we ran out of food (right at the end). But the wildlife and the forest and the experiences were amazing. I was hooked. So I moved to Cambodia after my PhD at James Cook university, and began working for Conservation International as a wildlife biologist. For the next two years I spent most of my time in the forests of Cambodia, Vietnam and China, in search of poorly known, often highly threatened and sometimes undescribed species of amphibian, documenting their distribution, biology and threats. In my job at the Australian Museum I’ve continued that. In the course of this work my colleagues have also discovered a number of frog species, including the vampire flying frog, and a frog with an incredibly complex call (not like your usual frog ‘croak, croak’). I love the field- it’s often incredibly physically difficult getting to the places we explore, we sleep in hammocks under a tarp in the monsoon season, we work at night and get little sleep, and I’ve had scrub typhus twice. But I have the amazing privilege of working with great friends and colleagues in the field (and after, writing papers etc), be in some special wild places and find frogs! And I feel like I’m making a difference, however small, to amphibian conservation.  So it’s  totally worth it! I’ve conducted over 20 expeditions in Southeast Asia in search of amphibians now, and hope I can continue well into the future. 
 
I’m in to science communication- I can talk about frogs for ever! I hope that I occasionally inspire people, at least open their eyes more to how cool frogs are and what amazing creatures we stand to lose. I’m also really into organic gardening- I have a community garden plot near my house, and like growing crazy heirloom veggies from seed. Especially purple ones (purple carrots, onions and cauliflower to name a few). And I have two whippet dogs that I love!”
 
Please welcome Dr Jodi Rowley of the Australia Museum to Real Scientists!
 
 

The Diversity of Scientists: thanks and farewell Greetchen Diaz

What an amazing week we were treated to from the super passionate Greetchen Diaz! She started off with a discussion of the different paths people take into science. Some are straight and traditional, while there are many of us who have taken a more curly wurly route, or dabbled in a few different fields before deciding where to focus our energies. From astronomers becoming psychologists to artists becoming biologists, the responses Greetchen elicited showed that maybe the typical route into science is not so typical after all.

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Help me doctor, the non-stop epic scients content from @RealScientists every week is sending me batty!

Greetchen also has a wide range of interests outside of science and put the question to the followers of @realscientists asking what their hobbies and interests outside of science were. The diversity of responses that flooded in was incredible. From sports and outdoor activities to cooking and baking to painting, drawing and knitting – turns out there are a lot of scientists out there who enjoy an immense assortment of activities when they’re not sciencing (note to self: must get a hobby…)

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Greet’s self-portrait. such talent very art wow!

Finally, another topic that Greetchen covered extensively was diversity in science, in particular the representation of women and minority groups. Again she curated an unbelievable range of responses from women scientists, showing us what  working in science means to them. All of this, combined with Greetchen’s work for Ciencia Puerto Rico (a non-profit organization dedicated to promote science and education in Puerto Rico), really gave us an inisight into what drives Greetchen, and her passion certainly shined through this week.

As always, you can catch up on any of the dicsussions you might have missed on Storify, and you can continue to follow Greetchen on twitter, @GreetDiaz.

Science, art, and everything in between: welcome Dr Greetchen Díaz to RealScientists

Our curator this week is Dr Greetchen Díaz (aka @greetdiaz) of the Nebraska Center for Virology, at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Greetchen hails from Puerto Rico, describing herself as ‘a Latina who loves art, music, history and science (not necessarily in that order).’

Dr. G. Diaz

Greetchen was the first member of her family to complete an advanced degree, and was inspired to succeed by her science and math teachers at school – her intellectual curiosity inspired by the encyclopedia she read as a child, learning about science, history, geography and cultures. Greetchen studied in a math and science specialized high school, an hour away from her town. During those years she thought of becoming an astronomer, fascinated by space and the possibility of discovering life on other planets. Then, she learned that she was not good at physics, so maybe being an astronomer was not a such good idea at all! She became interested in biology and after high school she completed her Bachelor’s degree in biology at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez, followed by a Masters in biology in the same university. Her Masters research investigated the fungal diversity present at a hypersaline environment in Puerto Rico. She subsequently enrolled in the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology interdisciplinary program at The Ohio State University where she worked in Anita Hopper’s laboratory at the Molecular Genetics department using yeast as a genetic model to study protein trafficking to the nuclear membrane for her PhD. In 2012, Greetchen joined the Nebraska Center for Virology at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. As a postdoc, she is using yeast as a genetic model to study DNA replication and maintenance of the Human papilloma virus (HPV), which infects human keratinocytes of the skin or mucous membranes and its long-term persistence causes precancerous lesions and invasive cancer.

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Greetchen aspires to be a professor in academia. Her objective is to be part of the new generation of scientists interested in developing programs to improve undergraduate education and research experience in STEM for minorities. She would like to use different and innovative strategies in science teaching, research and science communication:

As a scientist, I have always enjoyed to communicate my research results to scientific audiences. However, what I enjoy the most is to simplify scientific data and communicate complex concepts to general audiences in presentations that will be easier to understand and apply.

Since 2008, Greetchen has been a volunteer of “Ciencia Puerto Rico” (@CienciaPR; www.cienciapr.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to promote science and education in Puerto Rico. During her time with CienciaPR she has worked on different initiatives to increase science education, science literacy and public understanding of science. At CienciaPR, she is the founder of the photo-blog Science is all around you which highlights images from the natural world in Puerto Rico and explains the science behind them. Also, Greetchen is the founder of the blog section Borinqueña, which emphasizes on the contribution of Puerto Rican and Hispanic women in science, and provides a space to discuss topics of interest about the empowerment of women. Greetchen writes, edits, identifies topics, and manages teams of bloggers and guests contributors for both blogs. In addition, she is part of the team of writers/editors of the featured CienciaPR monthly story were they profile the work of an outstanding CienciaPR member or discuss a scientific topic of relevance to their community.

As a scientist, I believe that communicating science is crucial for our society as it contributes to its economical and educational development. I understand that it is an important component of our democracy. I believe we have the right to know about the scientific discoveries that will impact our lives. Also, it is important for the general public to know about the people who make science (the scientist) and their important role in our community. I see me in the future not only as a researcher and an educator but also as an effective communicator that will motivate people’s curiosity about science and discoveries. ¡Que viva la ciencia!

We are thrilled to have Greetchen tweeting for us this week on the account, and trust you will be too!

Cancer patience: thanks and farewell to Nicole Cloonan

You are here

You are here

Our curator for the past week on @RealScientists, Dr Nicole Cloonan aka @ncloonan, is a newly-minted group leader at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute on the northern fringes of the Brisbane CBD. Her research looks at the roles of microRNAs in gene regulation and disease, particularly in cancer. Nicole’s tweets deposited us directly into the life of a new lab head, navigating the trials and tribulations of establishing new experiments, new collaborations, competition, publication, and finding and protecting work-life balance.

MicroRNAs are small molecules, generated from long ribonucleic acid (RNA) precursors, which target specific genes, and regulate the expression of their protein products. As Nicole explained, what we think of as individual microRNAs are effectively a suite of multiple microRNA molecules with similar, overlapping specificities, and it is through this spectrum of on- and off-target effects that seemingly non-specific microRNAs enact their observably specific function. The profile of microRNAs in a cell can be seen as a shorthand ‘readout’ of the cell status, and because of its size, is quicker and easier to characterise via sequencing than other genetic ‘readouts’ such as the entire genome (the DNA) or transcriptome (all the transcribed RNA of the genes being expressed at any one time).

QIMRBerghofer Cloonan lab

Nicole’s first major programme of experiments in her first six months at @QIMRBerghofer (yes, it’s taken that long to get all the data together – patience is a virtue!) has been looking at microRNAs in cancer, to see if there are any microRNAs that affect the way cells respond to chemotherapy drugs. Basically, this involved taking approximately 2000 known human microRNAs, introducing them into human-derived cells in culture one at a time, then blasting them with chemo – compared to chemo-treated cells without introduced microRNAs. The data is fresh, so it’ll be a while before this makes it to publication – which was another big issue Nicole touched on, from battles over authorship to the real problem of open access, and how to pay for it.

All in all, it was a good week for Nicole – she got a paper out, entertained & informed more than 10,000 people on the internet, and found a name for her lab robot!

QIMRBerghofer Cloonan robot

Meet ‘Tik-Tok’. I thought that was a Teletubby, but apparently not.

A big thanks to Nicole for her great week on the account. We’ll have a link to a Storify of her tweets here shortly. You can follow Nicole at @ncloonan, and she also has a website for her lab and a research blog at genomicbiology.org.

Next week, we head to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Nebraska Center for Virology to meet postdoctoral researcher Dr Greetchen Diaz, aka @greetdiaz.

Molecular Machinations: Nicole Cloonan joins Real Scientists

From geology to crystallography to molecular biology, we welcome Dr Nicole Cloonan from the Queensland Institute for Medical Research. This is Nicole in her own words:

unnamed “I’d always been interested in science generally, being an addict of The Curiosity Show when I was much younger. In high school (years 7-10 in Canberra), the so-called “academically gifted” were not permitted to study biology, so it wasn’t until college (years 11-12) that I discovered my passion for the biological sciences. Life took some unexpected turns, and I ended up dropping out of university and working full time to support myself, but years later, I landed a job at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute (previously known simply as QIMR), and my passion for science was rekindled. I returned to university part time, worked at QIMR Berghofer, and published my first scientific papers before graduating from my BSc. Once I tasted scientific research, I never wanted to do anything else with my life. Now I’m back at QIMR Berghofer running my own lab. I swear a lot more now than I used to, but I’m not sure whether that is caused by or correlated with the increased amount of science I’m doing.

“I’ve had training in cell biology, protein biochemistry, molecular biology, genomics, and bioinformatics, and as a result I have never fit in at any scientific conference I’ve ever attended. I truly feel like I have mastered none of these fields, but it does mean that I can speak the language of the experts in each field, and bring a wide variety of research techniques to my research. I’m fascinated by complexity, the complexity of molecules, the complexity of regulation, and the complexity of transferring biological information from one set of molecules to another. And now I’m at back at QIMR Berghofer, I’m interested in how all of this complexity affects human disease. Mostly though I’m learning about the complexity of trying to run a lab, and pretending I’m a grown up.

“I’ve been involved with some very cool research so far. We invented RNAseq, we’ve been sequencing the genomes, transcriptomes, and methylomes of tumour and normal samples from patients with pancreatic cancer, and we’ve been playing silly buggers, trying to publish the worst name for an “ome” we could think of. I’m most recently known for my work on miRNAs – little fragments of RNA that only a few years ago everyone was running off the bottom of their agarose gels to make their RNA preps look better. It turns out that these little bits of RNA garbage are actually useful to both the cell and the researcher, and can tell us an awful lot about what’s going on in a cell at the molecular level. This will help us do things like pick the best chemotherapies for cancer patients, or understand why some types of stem cells are easier to make than others.”

Nicole started a BSc at the ANU in 1994 and, as she says, “dropped out due to insufficient hours in the day to both study and work to pay bills. She was then employed at QIMR Berghofer in 1995 to sequence oligos, and then become a research assistant for the Malaria group in 1997. Nicole restarted her BSc at Griffith University in 1997 and actually finished it, going on to also finish honours in 2001 (molecular biology), and a PhD in 2006 (cell biology, protein biochemistry, and bioinformatics) from the same university. Her first and only post-doc was at the University of Queensland with Sean Grimmond from 2006 to 2012, where she successfully won a UQ Postdoctoral Fellowship, an ARC Postdoctoral Fellowship, and an ARC Future Fellowship before starting her own lab in 2013.

Please welcome Dr Nicole Cloonan (@ncloonan) to Real Scientists!

Big magnets and frickin’ lasers – thanks and farewell Christine Beavers

When you arrive at work in the morning, and your view is this magnificent vista of the San Francisco Bay Area, it must make it a teensy bit hard to go inside and get your scients on. But our latest curator Christine Beavers does it every day from the Advanced Light Source at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

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We posit that this may be the world’s loveliest view from a synchrotron (RS HQ would like to scientifically assess this hypothesis, if anyone would like to fund our world synchrotron tour so we can collect these important data please send us all your monies).

This week, Christine prompted some interesting discussions on some of the tricker things that are faced by those working in synchrotrons, including the skyrocketing cost of helium (required for cooling magnets) and the skyplummeting financial support for advanced scientific infrastructure in the United States.

We were also permitted an insight into the delightfully named ‘BARF’ (Beamline Activated Ruby Fluorescence) system at the Advanced Light Source …

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BARF (but no pieces of carrot)

… and this majestic beast where x-rays are born.

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Thank you Christine for letting us inside your synchrotron this week! As always, you can catch up on anything you missed on Storify, and you can keep following Christine on twitter @xtalgrrl.

Order through chaos: welcome Christine Beavers to RealScientists

Structure and order define our understanding the universe, from the macro to the molecular scale. However, understanding the structure of molecules is hard, because they are small. Like, really, really small. A popular way to investigate this for nearly 100 years has been X-ray crystallography – crystallizing your molecule or material of interest into an ordered array, bouncing X-rays off them to collect the diffraction pattern (how the X-rays are scattered/reflected by the molecule) and figuring out the molecular structure from that info. Since many materials can form crystals (including salts, metals, minerals, semiconductors, and various inorganic, organic and biological molecules like proteins and DNA), X-ray crystallography has been key to a century of advancements in a range of scientific fields, from atomic physics and physical chemistry to biochemistry and molecular biology.

christinebeaversAs a general rule, the more powerful your X-ray source, the more diffraction events you can create and measure, and the more accurate your structural determinations can be. This has resulted in a role for synchrotrons, originally developed for high-energy atom-smashing physics experiments, in these sorts of experiments. Our next curator, Dr Christine Beavers (@XtalGrrl) of the Advanced Light Source Facility, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, enables researchers to use synchrotron beamlines to do exactly that. We fired questions at her and she diffracted them in the following pattern:

How did you end up in science?

Always been interested in how things work, and especially at an atomic level, so chemistry was a natural fit for me. I was born in Oakland, California. I am a California native, and I can see (on a good day) the hospital where I was born from where I work. I did both my B.S.(Chemistry) and Ph.D (Analytical Chemistry)at the University of California, Davis. In grad school, I thought I was going to become a mass spectroscopist, but then I learned about crystallography.

How did you end up in crystallography, and what is it about the beamline that makes it better than traditional sources?

UC Davis is home to one of the most well known crystallographers, Marilyn Olmstead. She saw my aptitude with spatial explorations and took me on as a grad student. She gave me the latitude to explore using a syncrotron for crystallography. At Davis, I did a lot work with the lab X-ray tube, which is a tungsten cathode, which emits electrons towards a target anode (usually molybdenum or copper) accross a high voltage. These electrons slam into the target material, and cause the emission of X-rays at characteristic frequencies. This process isn’t hugely efficient- you produce a respectable amount of the characteristic X-rays, but you also produce a lot of other frequencies of X-rays, called bremsstrahlung, which you have to block or filter out.  Using a beamline, you are receiving the X-rays directly from the radial deceleration of the electrons in the storage ring of the synchrotron. You can choose whatever frequency (or energy or wavelength, as we usually think of X-rays), because the synchrotron can produce a continuum of X-rays. Not to mention that the X-rays from the synchrotron are much more intense (more photons) and much more brilliant (highly linear) than any lab source.

More information on X-ray crystallography from UC Davis’ ‘ChemWiki’ site

Photo credit: Roy Kaltschmidt, Berkeley Lab

Photo credit: Roy Kaltschmidt, Berkeley Lab

What is your research about?

I am a bit of a research butterfly. My specific job calling is to support beamline users to do their science, hopefully using single crystal diffraction. Whatever they come with, I get to help them. The majority of the users I interact with work in mineral physics, like Abby Kavner, who are expanding our knowledge of the deep earth, by doing high pressure and high temperature work. I am also currently involved with numerous groups who are trying to do “high” pressure work on chemical compounds, which are much softer but sometimes really fascinating. My personal research goals are to improve the success of high pressure explorations- can we get better data? Can we determine the 3-D structure in more cases with less data?

What do you like to do when not in the lab?

I ride my horse. I have been riding horses since I did a riding camp in Girl Scouts when I was 10, and I haven’t been able to quit since. A major motivator for me to get educated and get a well-paying and satisfying career was to support my horse habit, but then I went into science!  Satisfying, yes! Well-paying, well…not bad.  My horse is a mare named Kierra, and I am just about to go out and have my weekly lesson from my trainer right now!

Kierra&MeWelcome, Christine, and we hope you enjoy your week on the account!