Food for Insect Pollinators in Towns and Cities

The Friends of the University of Bristol Botanic Garden welcomed 3rd-year UoB PhD student Nick Tew to discuss his findings on “Food for Insect Pollinators in Towns and Cities”. Nick focused on an optimistic outlook on the effects of urbanisation on pollinator species numbers in Bristol, and the unique conservation opportunities we can do in the city. He began by showing the plant experts, gardeners and local enthusiasts alike the delights of the ‘Bee Movie’, with a clip from the film representing our love for bees and apparent fast approaching doom as their numbers continue to dwindle.

Nick began with an interesting thought that media representations of plant pollinating species tend to focus on bees. ‘Pollinator Movie’ is a criminally underappreciated film idea, with other amazing pollinator species of wasp, fly, beetle and many more not enjoying the same media attention. The importance of pollinators in the sexual reproduction of flowering plants affects our natural world from our day to day lives to the scope of an entire ecosystem. For example, 76% of leading food crops have some degree of reliance on animal pollinators and is often key in producing good quality food rich in micronutrients. Plants have their own intrinsic value, and pollinators are vital in preserving the high diversity of plant species for future generations.

And this is why the figures showing a decline in our pollinator species are so impactful, with some habitats in Britain having a measured 55% drop in the number of pollinator species. Nick focused on the impact of land-use change, where natural wild grassland is converted for other, human-specific use. The most extreme land-use change is urbanisation. The building of cities leads to the removal of native plant species, warmer temperatures, and impervious surfaces. In general, land-use change is a hard and fast method in destroying biodiversity.

Nick’s own passion for allotment gardening and animal behaviour led him to his PhD thesis. Though urbanisation will negatively affect some pollinator species, bees appear to be particularly resilient to land-use change and can even find new opportunities. He theorises that this is because the larval and adult forms in bees feed on the same food sources, therefore do not need a specific plant to survive the juvenile stages. As generalised feeders, they can extract nectar and pollen from a variety of plants.

Nick began the first steps of his research in 2018 and measured the nectar content of over 200 flower species, including in the university’s own botanical garden. The measurements revealed that most of the nectar in urban areas are provided for by gardens. He found that urban areas had a more diverse array of pollinator species than farmland and nature reserves.

The second stage of his research found Nick visiting 59 different gardens in Bristol and measuring an estimated nectar production in individual gardens for each season. The gardens highly differed from one another, from their species types to the densities of plants. Generally, July was found to have the highest nectar production, with a drop in production starting in October.

However, Nick’s results showed the continuity of nectar when combining gardens together. As people plant different flowers from native and non-native species, a bee that may be able to forage in over 1000 gardens will likely be able to source nectar at each point of the year from at least a few gardens, even if the average output is minimal. The vivid pink and purple flowers of Fuchsia are a popular staple of UK gardens and are incredibly important in producing nectar in the Summer to Autumn months. In their native Americas, Fuchsia is pollinated by hummingbirds, so they produce high quantities of nectar. For UK insect pollinators, they present an absolute buffet. With this, Nick is able to present how the unique opportunity of gardens with a diverse range of flowering plants and non-native species in urban areas can actually lead to a more stable food source for pollinators.

So, what can people in cities do to help conserve our pollinator species? The opportunities presented by gardens in urban areas ride on a high diversity of flowering plants. Plant unusual flowers, ones that flower at different types of year. Think about planting 3D structure flowering plants, such as Fuchsia shrubs which can produce many flowers in one season. And, perhaps the easiest option, save your weeds! This means not pulling dandelions, clovers, and daisies that pop up in your lawn. If each available garden, green and allotment spaces are cared for with these points in mind, and with Nick’s expert opinion on which plants are best arranged together, we can help sustain our pollinators.

Written by Nicky Kobayashi-Boyd, Biology (BSc)

New fully-funded Lady Smyth MRes Studentship Opportunity

Are you passionate about ending world hunger, tackling global warming and finding ways to sustainably grow crops on our planet? Well, the Bristol Centre for Agricultural Innovation (BCAI) is offering an opportunity for you to discover solutions to the big issues that humanity faces, through studying plant and agricultural science.

The new flagship Lady Smyth Studentship scheme from the BCAI has just launched offering two fully-funded Master of Research studentships at the University of Bristol. This award provides students with the opportunity to engage in hands-on ground-breaking plant science research and covers the full cost of fees, stipend, expenses, and a supplement to support the dissemination of the research. Some of the potential projects that can be tackled are listed below, but for full details and further information about the scheme visit: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/biology/bcai/lady-emily-smyth-studentships/

How can farming methods help to mitigate climate change?

Dr Gary Barker

This project is concerned with the increasing temperatures worldwide, inefficient usage of land and the increasing demand for food due to the steadily growing population. It seeks to understand how farming systems can lead to a solution. To do so, it aims to engage with stakeholders and create discussions and case studies. The project pairs societal responses together with science to give a broader picture of the issues humanity faces today.

Function and development of super-hydrophilic slippery plant surfaces

Dr Ulrike Bauer

Understanding the mechanics behind the secretion of fluid on the trapping surface of some carnivorous plants may encourage the invention of more resilient plant crops with the help of high-tech equipment. The project uses morphometrics, time-lapse video and micro-imaging to give an insight on the surface development inside the hollow pitcher bud. This project will introduce you to a wide range of skills in the imaging and 3D reconstruction tech.

Clove production, Crop diversity and Biodiversity

Professor Tim Caro

Understanding what role different ecological matrices have on the health and productivity of clove trees based on observations from the biodiversity and interviews from clove-producers. The results from this project are crucial to dealing with food cost of land conversion and introduction of endemic island species.

Light control of leaf senescence

Professor Kerry Franklin

Leaf senescence controls the aging in plants and reduces the shelf life of postharvest plant crops. Phytochrome Interacting Factors (PIF) play huge role in this process. This project focuses on the manipulation and control of these transcription factors with the purpose of reducing food waste.

Identifying DNA sequences in crops with the potential to reduce soil erosion

Professor Claire Grierson

The goal of this project is to find a way to sustainable agriculture by avoiding soil erosion from crop plants. The selection of plants that are able to hold roots and soil together is important in achieving this. Through applying genetics and proteomics, genes that promote soil erosion can be identified.

The gene regulatory logic of plant stem cell function

Dr Jill Harrison

The objective of the research is to examine the basic requirements needed for plant stem cells to perform different functions in Arabidopsis. This is approached through looking into the interactions between different parts of the gene regulatory networks for stem cell function in a moss model.

Map the gap – making palm oil more sustainable by mapping yield gaps across tropical landscapes

Dr Thomas Jucker

Oil palm has the highest productivity out of all vegetable fats; however, it comes with a tremendous environmental cost. This project aims to identify ways to harvest oil palm more sustainably by using remote sense technologies to map different conditions under which oil palm grows best, giving more space for rainforests to be restored.

Re-engineering peroxisome movement in plants

Dr Imogen Sparks

New approaches to sustainably increase the food supply are needed to support the steadily growing population. Organelle movement is important in determining plant biomass and is linked to responding to pathogens. This project focuses on the mechanisms of organelle movement, specifically peroxisomes. Experiments will try to identify how changes in movement can affect cell size.

What is BCAI?

The Bristol Centre for Agricultural Innovation (BCAI) aims to support agricultural sciences within the University of Bristol through innovation, application and research. The centre is funded by the Lady Emily Smyth Trust, established in university in 2003. To preserve the legacy of Lady Emily Smyth, the BCAI has become the pioneer of agricultural research. To learn more visit: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/biology/bcai/

Written by Antonia Yovcheva (Earth Sciences)

Careers Week 2020

3rd – 7th February 2020 marked the first-ever Life Sciences Building Careers Week… five days of presentations, panel discussions and employer stands! Here’s what went on and some useful things you may have missed…

The low down…

The week kicked off with talks and stalls for those who wanted to explore postgraduate study options, from the new MSc bioinformatics degree to informal chats with current postgraduate students, this proved a valuable day to clarify the next steps for those who aren’t ready to leave university just yet! With most undergrads eligible for 10% off postgraduate tuition fees, there may not be a better time to continue your studies at Bristol and enhance your future prospects.

Tuesday marked a day of invaluable CV advice and application help, from a CV cafe in the LSB atrium to awareness of some of the great resources that the careers service website has! Be sure to check out CV360 on the career’s website, a simple tool in which you upload your CV and get instant feedback. This service uses similar parameters to recruitment companies, giving you the same feedback as hiring managers receive!


Did you know…

You can use the careers service for up to three years after graduating!


On the penultimate day of what proved to be a very informative week, the careers service ran a ‘Careers Options and Resource’ workshop. Designed to show students the many doors that a science degree can open, this session also notified us about some great resources available to find your perfect job.

And finally, Friday, the best day of the week for many reasons, with three excellent panel discussions from a range of speakers (lawyers to cameramen, teachers to data scientists), these sessions were a great way for students to gain an insight into a typical day in their life and ask questions. Many listeners left these talks feeling very inspired to go out and find a job they love!

Students listening to the ‘careers in the media’ panel, photo Dr Bex Pike

Panel sessions:


ALTERNATIVE CAREERS WITH A SCIENCE DEGREE

  • Speakers included: Kathryn (Lawyer, Friends of the Earth); Vilas (Director, IES Consulting Ltd); Vondy (Data Scientist, Talking Money); Naomi (Environmental Monitoring Officer, Environmental Agency); Helena (Head of Media Solutions, Merkle)
  • Top tips: (1) Research a company and find out what they do, who their competitors are etc. before an interview. (2) Use gaps in your time to teach yourself a skill.

CAREERS IN THE MEDIA

  • Speakers included: Mark (Producer, Director and Camera Operator), Pete (Documentary Cameraman), Theo (Wildlife Filmmaker), Louise (Sustainable Food Documenter), Ross (Zoologist and Entomologist).
  • Top tip: Find what exact part of wildlife filmmaking you like best e.g. cameraman, producer etc.

TEACHING AND SCIENCE COMMUNICATION

  • Speakers included: Maddy (Public Engagement Associate), Chris (Teaching Associate), Helena (Head of Science), Kyle (Teacher) and Sophie (Science Communicator).
  • Top tip: Volunteer at any events you can such as the Edinburgh Science Festival or British Science Festival.

Key messages from some of the speakers:

“Find what fascinates you then follow this to help you navigate a route through”

“Don’t ever think of a job as a forever job – do what makes you happy now”

“Wildlife filmmaking is a competitive industry but it’s undergoing a boom so there have never been more opportunities”

“Teaching is a very rewarding job, don’t be afraid to ask schools for some work experience or a shadow day, they’ll be more than happy to help”

Many thanks to all the organisers, LSB careers week was an excellent way to gain more clarity on navigating the world post-university. If you’re still unsure and want to know more visit the careers website online (http://www.bristol.ac.uk/careers) or in-person and check out the useful links above – GOOD LUCK!!

Written by Sophia Griffiths (Biology BSc)

Useful tools to check out:

 

A pigment of your imagination? Unravelling conspicuous colouration in mammals

Typically, you’d expect to see a lot of red and green at Christmas, but on Tuesday 3rd December, black and white took centre stage for the Biological Sciences 2019 Christmas Lecture. Professor Tim Caro spoke to provide the answers to questions such as why zebras are striped and why giant pandas are black and white.

Pandas were the opening act, and Professor Caro walked us through the possible hypotheses behind their striking, and seemingly eye catching, colouration. Were the black and white patches a form of aposematism, like it is thought to be the case with skunks?

Comparative analyses suggested this was not the case. Contrary to human assumption, Tim showed that the contrasting patches are adapted for crypsis in both shade and snow, and that markings on the head are used in communication.

Tim also stressed the importance of evolutionary time in understanding the believability of this theory. While nowadays they do not have any natural predators, thousands of years ago pandas cohabited with tigers, bears and wild dogs. Camouflage would thus likely have been highly beneficial in the panda’s snowy mountain habitat.

Explaining the adaptive significance of zebra stripes was next. Logically and methodically dissecting all well-known theories that attempted to solve the riddle of this famous equid’s stripes, he left the audience wondering what was left.

The first theory to fall was camouflage. Research shows that the stripes of zebras do not, as previously thought, make them harder to spot at moonlight. Stripes as an anti-predator defence is therefore unlikely. Cooling was also shown to be an improbable answer, as it has been proven that the temperature of zebras compared to other non-striped equids is higher in the summer months.

Perhaps the stripes facilitate social stimulation? Probably not. Grooming rate in zebras is low compared to other equids, so it looks unlikely neck stripes encourage social bonding this way. Furthermore, in many equid species individuals can accurately recognise each other without striped hair. The last to receive a grilling was the confusion effect hypothesis as an anti-predator defence mechanism. It turns out that in assessing the number of individuals in a herd, difficulty doing so depends only on the size of the herd, and not if members are striped or not.

Like a magician revealing his final trick, Tim explained the missing piece of the puzzle was ectoparasite avoidance. His team discovered a striking correlation between the geography of striped equids and the distribution of tabanids (biting flies).

Originally proposed in 1940, this theory wasn’t investigated until Tim and his team used a multi factorial analysis to track the distribution of zebras and other equids to see if there was a pattern. They found there was a strong association between the presence of striped equids and the presence of tabanids. Further experiments dressing up horses in striped coats (yes, you read that correctly) showed that flies struggled more, in landing on and biting, those with striped coats.

Tim’s parting message was one that focused on conservation. He stressed that children should not be told fairy tales to explain how animals came to be and why they look the way they do. Rather, we should explain to them the science behind it, so that the public can understand and be convinced to do something about the biodiversity crisis.

Following the talk, I caught up with Tim over a class of mulled wine to find out a bit more about him, and why he chooses to study such charismatic and recognisable animals.

So, Tim, why did you decide to study biology?

My mother gave me the Observer’s Book of Birds when I was three years old and ever since then I was hooked.

Was there a particular teacher or tutor that inspired you?

There is one that definitely stands out. He was called Mr Harlen and I think he taught Biology. I remember one day he drew a diagram of an alimentary canal in such a simple, logical way, and I thought, ‘this is makes so much sense’.

Why have you chosen such recognisable and charismatic animals to study, such as cheetahs, zebras and pandas?

I like that there are thorny issues surrounding these species, their behaviour and the way they look, which everyone has some interest in understanding.

Which animal has been your favourite to work with and why?

It would have to be cheetahs. For four years I was alone in the Serengeti studying their mating systems and I learned a lot.

Is there anything you wished you had done differently in the field?

I would say that dressing up in a zebra-striped onesie and walking through the territory of the local lion pride wasn’t my greatest idea.

Do you have any advice for third years, or anyone considering postgraduate study?

Absolutely. Find the thing you are really interested in and research it. Really get into a system or get to know a species or group really well, so that you become the ‘go to’ person about that area. I wish I had done that, and I think it can really help inspire and direct your study.

Written by Esme Hedley (3rd Year Biology BSc)

Esme Hedley is a third-year year biology student with a passion for behavioural ecology, science communication and scientific illustration.



Our deep origins: deciphering the earliest branches on the tree of life

Uncovering where we come from and how we have evolved involves a trip into the ancient history of life. Delving deep into our past, we find that the eukaryotic cells that eventually became animals like you and me, branched from other types of cell long ago. But the precise way this branching occurred and the unique features that distinguish our cells from others is uncertain and hotly debated. Studying rocks and specifically fossils has long been the only source of information about these deep origins of life. Unfortunately, the majority of organisms leave little or no trace in the fossil record from which their ancestry can be determined. This is but one of the many challenges scientists face when trying to unravel the origin of eukaryotic cells.

Examples of the three domains of life: the Bacteria Helicobacter pylori, the Archaea Halobacterium sp. strain NRC-1, and a diverse range of Eukaryotes. Images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Phylogenetics is a field that aims to understand the evolutionary relationships between species and is a key tool for deducing the common ancestor that eukaryotes shared with the two other domains of life – the Archaea and Bacteria. In their recent paper that was published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, Williams, Cox, Foster, Szöllősi, and Embley focused on determining which of the two current hypotheses for the structure of the tree of life are most likely to be correct, and attempted to find last common ancestor of the Archaea and Eukarya. One of these hypothesises, the three-domain tree, suggests that the archaea and eukaryotes are ancient sister lineages; the other, the two-domain tree, proposes that eukaryotes evolved from within the archaea. The two-domain tree suggests an endosymbiotic event in which an Archaeon engulfed a Bacterium, which later became the mitochondria of eukaryotes, leading to the evolution of Eukarya and ultimately us. Lead author Tom Williams states that their use of “the best-fitting substitution models” supports the two-domain model.

Schematic phylogenetic trees showing the two competing ideas for where Eukarya sit in the tree of life. Image courtesy of Thomas Gorochowski.

The exact Archaean has yet to be found, but Williams et al. have taken a significant step towards elucidating who this proto eukaryote might be. The paper proposes that the “best candidate for the closest archaeal relative of the eukaryotic nuclear lineage” is a member of the Asgard Archaea, Heimdallarchaeota. The identification of Heimdallarchaeota as the closest sister-group to eukaryotes, means that it shares the most features of any other known archaeal cell with eukaryotes. However, Heimdallarchaeota are not the direct ancestors of eukaryotic cells, only the ones with the closest known phylogenetic relationship. The work of Williams et al. suggests that even closer archaeal relatives of eukaryotes might remain to be found.

When asked for a comment on what the paper means and how he found the process, Williams spoke about how “working out what happened potentially billions of years ago [was] difficult and a number of hypotheses for eukaryotic origins have been discussed recently”. Upon re-evaluation of these claims “our analyses support just one of these ideas: a two-domains tree in which key components of eukaryotic cells evolved from within the archaeal domain.”

So, how is this significant to us? Aside from the direct scientific relevance of this study in understanding the origins of eukaryotes, Williams paints a bigger picture. This is one in which we can see how eukaryotes are distinguished from their archaeal and prokaryotic relatives; fundamentally what makes eukaryotes unique at the lowest level. Furthermore, it highlights how the eukaryotes became so inherently complex. The research into eukaryotic origins is far from finished, but Williams et al. have broadened our understanding of where the types of cells that make up you and I come from and identifies the source of their unique features.

Paper: Phylogenomics provides robust support for a two-domains tree of life (2019) Williams T.A., Cox C.J., Foster P.G., Szollosi G.J. & Embley T.M. (2019) Nature Ecology and Evolution DOI: 10.1038/s41559-019-1040-x

Written by Ellie Nichols (2nd Year Biology BSc)

Ellie Nichols is a second-year biology student interested in molecular genetics and phylogenetics. If you’d like to contact her, she is available at pu18241@bristol.ac.uk



A Surprise Visitor Comes Back

As a surprise treat, a daughter had asked us if we would show her 86 year old father Dr Peter Hunt around our biology buildings old & new, as he did his first degree in botany here in Bristol and he also did his PhD with the world famous mycologist Lilian E Hawker also in Bristol, he was here from 1951 to 1957.

Absolute pleasure to show him around our wonderful new building, and he was lucky enough to speak to some of our wonderful 1st year undergrads in the their practical class looking at protists which he knew all about from his own undergrad days. Also lovely to give him a tour of Fry Building, which in 1950’s had biology & chemistry in it, now been beautifully refurbished for Maths, it was lovely that he still recognised many features & where his lab was, even though 60 years since last visit.

After Bristol he moved to Cornell University where he saw the light and converted to plant pathology, before taking up a position at University of the West Indies in Jamaica where he spent the majority of his career, and later worked with ODA (now DFiD) and other aid agencies in Sumatra, Java, Grenada and Belize. He worked on cloves, peppers, citrus and others I hope we are all as sharp and sprightly as he was today at age 86.


Written by Professor Gary Foster

Twitter @Prof_GD_Foster



Summer in the Fly Lab

Finding summer internships and career experience to build up a CV is a common pressure on university students, and for those who use summer work to help financially support themselves, these often voluntary or unpaid opportunities can become especially limited. I found myself in this challenging position in my third year when I was deciding on a career path without any experience. I was considering research or science communication but felt overwhelmed with the possibility that it was too late since I hadn’t done a summer placement.

After months of searching for internships, I had almost given up hope until I received an email from the University of Bristol Careers Service about the University of Oxford’s pilot UNIQ+ Summer School. Students who may find pursuing a postgraduate degree a challenge, for example, for financial or socio-economic reasons, could partake in a six-week postgraduate-style research project, receiving free accommodation in an Oxford college, and a generous stipend to cover any missed summer income. It was the perfect solution to my dilemma and being part of a cohort appealed much more than being alone!

The Application Process

This year, UNIQ+ was open to medical, biological, mathematical and physical sciences students but will hopefully expand to other subjects in future years. While applying, you specify your research interests to help match you to the right supervisor and project; mine were behavioural ecology and sociogenomics but I included a few others if they weren’t available. I sent my CV and an official academic transcript, and wrote a personal statement which elaborated on my circumstances, research interests and experience, and what a place on UNIQ+ would mean to me. A challenging part of the application was ensuring two referees sent in their reference letters by the deadline; I only had ten days in the latter half of the Easter holidays to do this, hence reaching the relevant academics was difficult! Thankfully, my referees were wonderful and wrote my letters just in time. I strongly recommend starting the process much earlier than I did and prioritise contacting your references as it is your responsibility that they are submitted!

I was offered a place having just finished my first of six exams in May; news which couldn’t have come at a better time as I had declined summer work holding out hope! I didn’t know the details of my project until early June but fortunately, my project was very well suited to my interests, studying the nutritional choices of five species of Drosophila under the supervision of Dr Jen Perry, an evolutionary ecologist in the Department of Zoology. I had never worked with fruit flies before, so this was a good opportunity to learn new lab techniques and challenge myself.

Lab Experience

I was shown around the Fly Lab on my first afternoon in Oxford, realising how different research labs are to the teaching labs that I was used to! The small size made it feel very immersive, and it meant I met everyone and became familiar with everything so quickly. I attended lab meetings where I set my own weekly goals and spoke about my project’s progress, which made me feel so welcome and often forgetting that I was a visiting student at all. I was given a lot of independence which suited me despite the steep learning curve it brought – one evening I left the lab at 10:30 pm because I severely underestimated how long transferring individual flies to vials would take!

My experiment expanded upon recent studies which suggest that D. melanogaster females consume more protein than males and that this contributes to egg production. This was supported by studies showing that increased protein consumption can decrease longevity, implying that the consumption must increase lifetime fitness for this strategy to persist. To the best of our knowledge, this hadn’t been tested in other species of Drosophila, which provided the premise for my project. I used D. melanogaster, D. birchii, D. pseudoananassae, D. pandora, and D. sulfurigaster to study the difference in protein and carbohydrate consumption in mated and unmated (virgin) males and females. I reared flies of each species and allocated them treatment groups once they were sexually mature (around five days after eclosion). Then, I performed large-scale mating experiments with roughly 600 females (see picture of the mating rack below) and separated them into their experimental agar vials for the nutrition experiment. Nutritional choice and consumption were measured using the difference in fill-level of two small capillary tubes (called ringcaps) over 24 hours; one filled with protein solution and the other with a carbohydrate solution. I repeated this process for three days, eventually converting the fill-level difference to volume consumed for statistical analysis.

An example of just one rack for the mating experiment. Recorded on the tubes are the species, the time the male was introduced, the time they began mating and the time they finished mating. This helped discern any mating differences between species. I was watching all of these flies at once!
Vials with ringcaps. The red-topped tubes contain protein solution and the green-topped tubes contain carbohydrate solution.

After my initial analysis, my most notable result was a significant difference in protein consumption between mated females of different species. While protein consumption significantly increased following mating in all species, there was significant variation between them in the proportion of this increase. Considering that there are over 1500 species of Drosophila, results from lab generations of D. melanogaster therefore might be less applicable to other species than originally thought! To further investigate the relationship between nutrition and mating status, sex and species I completed further analyses which I presented to the cohort on my final day.

I truly enjoyed my time as part of the Fly Lab; I developed a repertoire of animal husbandry skills, from anaesthetising and sexing my project species (they’re surprisingly different!), to making their food and observing their mating behaviour. My biggest mistake was not keeping an organised lab book, particularly when it came to experimental design and numbers, something I know for my master’s project! After these six weeks, I feel more prepared not only for my fourth year but potential postgraduate studies. Although this time was a twinkle in the eye of a PhD, I am seriously considering it for my future and I look forward to exploring my options.

Social Experience

Alongside working hard in the labs, there was also a social programme to integrate the 39 of us with different projects (this included 6 students on a similar programme for the social sciences organised by Nuffield College). The core events were weekly semi-formal dinners hosted by one of the Oxford colleges. They offered a chance to catch up with other participants, meet the UNIQ+ academics and admin team, and speak to current PhD students (known as DPhil students at Oxford). If you are considering postgraduate study particularly at Oxford, these dinners were instrumental in creating a true college experience and meant you could ask college-specific questions at each. Set around these dinners were talks from academics and current DPhil students about their research areas, college tours, drinks receptions and even punting! Informal events were also organised by us, such as a curry night and attending a Shakespeare play at Oxford Castle.

For me, one of the most influential days was the Graduate Study Information Session. We heard informative talks from admissions and finance staff about the postgraduate interview process, applying for scholarship funding, and other extremely valuable tips to help us for the application process. These sessions, alongside our lab experience, really made postgraduate study feel so much more accessible than before UNIQ+ and gave me the confidence boost I needed to decide whether postgraduate study was for me.

Of course, one of the best parts of UNIQ+ was the friends I made. Leaving your established friendship group to go and live in a new city was so challenging but making friends from other universities in similar situations to yourself was definitely a highlight. I’m so grateful to have met such driven and passionate friends who genuinely inspired me so much in such a short time.

Punting was clearly not as easy as it seems…

Final Thoughts

Although it wasn’t without its hiccups, the pilot year of UNIQ+ was incredible and I am confident that our feedback will help make next year’s programme even better. The intended increase in intake hopefully means more participants in each college to create a more representative view of college life, where I felt there could be the most improvement. This, however, didn’t dictate my overall experience, and I left the programme with so much more clarity about my future direction, and for that I couldn’t be more thankful.

If you are passionate about research and meet the requirements for the UNIQ+ application (which can be checked here), then I strongly urge you to apply, even if you aren’t considering Oxford! It was a unique insight into postgraduate life and a really valuable way to spend the summer; it pushes you out of your comfort zone and into a world-renowned university that is often seen as inaccessible. Opportunities like these are still scarce but I am hopeful that this is changing. I believe that the University of Oxford’s UNIQ+ Access Summer School is pioneering a new era of research internship opportunities across universities so that all students can fulfil their passions.

Finally, I would like to thank all members of the UNIQ+ admin team and organisers for such a memorable experience, as well as the University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology and in particular everyone in the Fly Lab for being so welcoming. Of course, a special thank you goes to Dr Perry – I couldn’t have asked for a lovelier supervisor who helped make my summer in Oxford so brilliant.

Written by Ellie Jarvis Zoology (MSci)

UNIQ+ Summer School at the University of Oxford (1st July – 9th August 2019)


Futures European Researchers’ Night

The Futures European Researchers’ Night at We the Curious was a chance to meet and question top researchers from three universities including the University of Bristol. Pitched at a level for individuals with a non-scientific background, it enabled members of the public to engage with ground-breaking science that usually might not be accessible to them.

It was especially interesting to meet the Fluid and Aerodynamic Research Group, who use animal behaviour research to inspire novel technologies. We discovered how gull flight paths are very energy-efficient because they take into account wind patterns, and we learned that this knowledge is being used to develop drones that fly in a similar way. Check out https://www.bristol.ac.uk/aerodynamics-research/research-projects/bif/research/urban_gull/ for more information, including how you can get involved in spotting gulls that have been tagged for the project.

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Ella Boswell, Biology (BSc)



Bee and Pollination Festival 2019

The University of Bristol marked the 10th anniversary of the Bee and Pollination Festival at the Botanic Gardens on Saturday- 31st August and Sunday- 1st September.

Beekeepers, scientists and local enthusiasts teamed up for a fantastic event aimed at educating, celebrating and raising awareness of the importance of pollination. A ‘hive’ of activities were spread across the two days, including- exhibition stands, educational talks, craft workshops and some fantastic plant and produce sales.

Upon my arrival at the festival I was met by one of the staff members, Nicola Rathbone (also known as Frogie), who was extremely kind and took time out of her busy schedule to talk me through the activities on hand and what to expect throughout the weekend. At the end of the conversation she left me with an interesting thought; “It’s not just about the bees, it’s about all pollinators”. People`s focus is usually centred around honeybees when it comes to pollination and often the rest of the 300,000 species of pollinators are overlooked. The event’s organisers are keen to stress that all pollinators have value and are worthy of conservation.

On Saturday, the Festival welcomed Jane Memmott, Professor of Ecology at the University of Bristol and Director of the Botanic Gardens, and her talk on ‘Who pollinates your daily food and why it matters’.

She walked visitors through examples of foods that are a product of pollination, often foods we consume every day and could be found in our cupboards. She encourages us to put more thought into what goes into our meals and how it end up there. She continued with factors that contribute to the rapid decline of pollinators, what could be done and how we can implement small changes in our everyday lives in order to attract and protect pollinators in our gardens.

Another popular talk was by Phil Savoie, biologist and award winning nature photographer, with ‘Wild Bees in my Garden’. Using mesmerising photos, he took visitors on a journey around his garden to have a closer look inside the lives of different species of native bees.

A solitary bee was spotted feeding on nectar at the Botanic Gardens

An insight into the Asian Hornet and the havoc it causes on honeybees in the Channel Isles was presented by Lynne Ingram, Master beekeeper from Somerset, who has been working alongside scientists from the University of Exeter and Jersey in order to tackle the perils of the Asian Hornet. Using ground-breaking telemetry, she and her team are tracking Asian Hornets back to where they nest and destroying the nests once located. She is tirelessly working on spreading awareness among beekeepers and the public of the destructive nature of these invasive wasps and the harm they bring to honeybees and other pollinators.

Matt Cracknell, Project Manager of Feed Bristol, was another speaker. He introduced the project for a six-acre wildlife gardening hub and a native wildflower nursery, where people and wildlife can thrive together.

The festival continued on Sunday with a very interesting talk from Dr Rowena Jenkins, lecturer in Microbiology and Infectious Disease in the College of Medicine at Swansea University, on her research on the healing qualities of Manuka honey against antibiotic- resistant strains of certain bacteria.

Across the two days, nature organisations put on free workshops, exhibitions and information stands to celebrate pollinators.  Organisations such as Avon Wildlife Trust, Bristol Naturalists Society, Friends of the Downs and Avon Gorge, as well as the School of Biological Sciences and many more took on the task to engage with the many who attended, raising awareness and promoting interest in local nature, and encouraging pollinators’ wellbeing.

Bee- friendly flower and plant seeds, honey and even raw pollen (which is great in smoothies) were available for people to take home. Visitors had the opportunity to taste honey cakes and cider, and buy local fruits and vegetables; all of which supports local farmers and allows you to reduce your environmental impact.

Honey for sale was available throughout the festival
A hive of bees as part of one of the demonstrations

 

 

 

 

 

 

The family-friendly workshops, demonstrations and games were enjoyed by everyone. There was willow weaving and nature workshops, beekeeping demonstrations and games like the children’s trail, where through pictures, kids and their parents were identifying different plants and their associated pollinators.

The director of the gardens, Prof. Jane Memmott, leaves us with food for thought; “What makes pollinators happy often makes people happy too – flowers provide a literal feast for bees and a visual feast for people”

On a whole, it was a fantastic event with something for everyone: a good balance of fun, food and educational events. As commented by one of the visitors “it is not one to miss”, so make sure you attend next year!

Written by Antonia Yovcheva, Palaeontology and Evolution (BSc)School of Earth Sciences