Professor Tracy Lawson talks about the effects of fluctuating light on photosynthesis and stomatal behaviour

This Monday Professor Tracy Lawson from the University of Essex talked to students and academic staff in Bristol about her last findings in the survey of stomata behaviour as a response to different environmental stimuli.

This Monday, Professor Tracy Lawson from the School of Biological Sciences of the University of Essex talked to students and academic staff of the LSB in Bristol about her last findings in the survey of stomatal behaviour as a response to different environmental stimuli. During the last 6 years, she and the members of her lab have been working on stomata, water assimilation rates and CO2 gain, the speed of response of stomata in different light conditions, and the importance of studying this topic according to current and future global environmental conditions such as increases in temperatures worldwide, more food production using less land, changing rainfall patterns and lack of water sources for demanding irrigation crops.

During the first part of her talk, Professor Lawson talked about how different plants have different patterns of stomatal behaviour and how these respond differently according to plant phenotype and environmental conditions. Just to mention an example, rice can get a maximum carbon assimilation rate of 95% in only 10 minutes in comparison to Ginkgo biloba that takes one hour to reach a similar rate.

To know more about how plants respond to light fluctuations and climate, Professor Lawson mimicked natural fluctuations in light over a diurnal period to examine the effect on the photosynthetic processes and growth of Arabidopsis (Arabidopsis thaliana). She compared the plant’s behaviour under square wave light and fluctuating light conditions. Under the first treatment, plants responded with thicker leaves, more photosynthetic efficiency, better leaf structure and more proteins associated with electron transport. Plants under the second treatment produced thinner leaves, lower light absorption and slower growth. Under both conditions, plants maintained similar photosynthetic rates.

However, these results highlight that there is a negative feedback control of photosynthesis resulting in a decrease of diurnal carbon assimilation under fluctuating light conditions and that plants under square wave light fail as predictors of performance under realistic light regimes.

The following part of her talk was about the impact of dynamic growth light on stomatal acclimation and behaviour. Professor Lawson assessed the impact of growth light regime on stomatal acclimation and gas exchange growing Arabidopsis plants in three different lighting regimes:

  1. with the same average daily intensity,
  2. fluctuating with a fixed pattern of light, fluctuating with a randomized pattern of light (sinusoidal), and non-fluctuating (square wave).

With this experiment she and her research team demonstrated that gs (stomatal conductance to water vapour) acclimation is influenced by pattern and intensity of light, modifying the stomatal kinetics at different times of the day and resulting in differences in the rapidity and magnitude of the gs response. They quantified the response to a signal that uncouples variation in CO2 assimilation and gs over most of the diurnal period. This can be translated as 25% water loss during the day without CO2 assimilation. The gs response can be characterized by a Gaussian element when incorporated into the Ball-Berry model to predict the gs in a dynamic environment.

Professor Lawson concluded that acclimation of gs to light could be an important strategy for maintaining carbon fixation and overall plant water status and should be considered to infer responses of crops under field conditions.

Written by Carlos Gracida Juarez (Biological Sciences PhD)



Research Seminar with Professor Eric Morgan

What killed over 200,000 saiga antelopes in Kazakhstan in 2015 and should it change how we think of wildlife disease?

As a species that inhabits vast regions of the Kazakhstan steppe and maintains one of the most magnificent migratory patterns in the world, it is no wonder that the mass mortality event of 2015 that killed over 200,000 saiga antelope became a global cause for concern.

In his seminar, Eric Morgan, a Professor at the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast, outlined the scientific response to such a mass mortality event, placing particular emphasis on the challenges he and his research team faced in the identification of the causal agent.

Saiga antelope, distinct due to their bulbous nose, roam the planes of Kazakhstan, migrating vast distances from winter to summer to aid survival in harsh environmental conditions. Once abundant, the species has experienced a series of population crashes since the collapse of communism due to a corresponding crash in livestock numbers, resulting in an increase in hunting.

Due to their complex migratory patterns, the saiga antelope is difficult to conserve, therefore mobile nature reserves were constructed by local authorities in response to their decline. This resulted in significant population growth, making the initiative “a great conservation success story”, as described by Eric.

However, the story doesn’t end there. In 2015 Richard Kock, Professor of wildlife health and emerging diseases at the Royal Veterinary College in London, discovered a vast graveyard of saiga antelope that had aggregated in central Kazakhstan to calve.

As a keystone species, this mass mortality event attracted a flurry of media attention and demanded urgent answers as to what had caused so many saiga antelope to die over a minute timescale. A meeting hosted by the UN resulted in the construction of a core research team, of which Eric Morgan was a key member.

Having never seen anything of this nature before, Eric went on to explain some of the atypical features of the scene that stumped researchers, such as even spacing of carcases, indicating an almost synchronised death of antelopes at the time of calving. Additionally, dead calves were found with their stomachs full, which is unusual as orphaned calves typically die of starvation. Therefore, this indicated to the research team that whatever had killed the adults had been passed to the offspring during feeding.

Symptoms included weakness, diarrhoea, respiratory difficulties and internal haemorrhages. Eric described the project as uncomfortable and difficult to be involved in not only due to the tragedy but due to the lack of time to respond, stating that “it was so up in the air”. The research team, therefore, were denied the time to generate and develop full hypotheses, finding themselves testing hunches, not factors. A working hypothesis table was constructed, detailing circumstantial causes rated from high to low probability. This table can be found supplementary to Eric’s paper.

The team ruled out many bacteria and viruses along with heavy metals as causal factors. A laugh was shared as Eric displayed a picture of his arm covered in mosquitoes, explaining how he had to let day-feeding mosquitoes land on him so that they could be picked off and sampled to rule out a vector-borne disease.

Finally, a diagnosis of Pasturella multocida was made, again puzzling the research team in that the bacteria is very common in the tonsils of carrier animals, so why doesn’t it cause a mortality every year? A factor within the saiga population must have been changing for bacteria carried in the tonsils to suddenly begin to invade the rest of the body. So far, further research does not show any differences between bacteria that breach the intestinal mucosa and that carried on the tonsils.

Eric continued by highlighting other interacting factors that may form additional pieces of the puzzle such as climate and parasite invasion. Climatic data at the time of past die-offs was collected and a principal component analysis developed. It was concluded that past die-offs had climatic factors in common, such as above 80% humidity and greater precipitation. Eric described this as a ‘climatic

signature’ but, highlighted that the link is weak as it is difficult to associate something out of the ordinary, a mass mortality event, with a variable factor such as climate.
But how do parasites enter the picture? “Humble gut-worms” stated Eric. Parasites invade the intestinal mucosa having dramatic effects on protein metabolism, and the effects may be accelerated during pregnancy. During late pregnancy and early-lactation, the mother directs proteins towards the developing calve, therefore is immunosuppressed and subsequently more vulnerable to bacterial infection.

Eric concluded by stating the team have only got so far in making definitive conclusions and that research is still ongoing. He commented that he is very pleased to have been involved in “a real conundrum” and described the experience as “most satisfying”.
It is possible that nothing can be done to prevent mass mortality events like this from affecting the saiga antelopes in the future. Therefore, research must focus on ways to develop populations large enough to “survive the hit”. However, it is important to acknowledge that this is relevant beyond the saiga system. Climate change is having a profound effect on host susceptibility and virulence. Adaptation to new conditions may be possible however room for manoeuvre is required. Eric stated “Leave parasites alone as they are part of the natural system? Maybe we cannot think like that anymore”.

The lecture was rounded off with a couple of questions, with one audience member enquiring as to whether the research team sought to treat any of the antelopes to try and increase the population back up to a sustainable level. Eric replied by stating “there is no time to intervene in something of this scale and would you want to?” He explained that the knee-jerk reaction may be to start feeding the saiga population hay and pasture, but that may lead to population aggregation around the food source and disease spread. “You have to think very carefully before you intervene in natural systems”.

Written by Beth Harris (year 3 Biology MSci)



Inside the Teaching Lab 360° Video

The state-of-the-art teaching laboratories have been designed to ensure a first rate educational experience in a safe and ergonomic workspace.

Cutting-edge equipment for experimental work includes:

  • Microscopy (compound, stereo, light and fluorescence, with imaging facilities).
  • Genetic analysis (PCR machines and gel electrophoresis/documentation systems).
  • Environmental monitoring (pH meters, oxygen meters, spectrophotometers).

The laboratories are fully furnished with notebook computers and new equipment for practical sessions focused on microscopy (high power compound types, low power stereo ‘scopes, video imaging), genetic analysis (PCR machines, gel documentation systems), and environmental monitoring (pH meters, oxygen meters, spectrophotometers).

This laboratory infrastructure is complemented by new equipment for field courses.

This state-of-the-art equipment allows us to introduce novel approaches to teaching, including the development and implementation of digital laboratory manuals (DLMs) for teaching core practical skills in biological research.

Final year practical projects are enhanced through access to new research laboratories where undergraduates work alongside academic staff, research staff, and postgraduate students; while tutorials and small-group teaching sessions benefit from the meeting rooms and break-out spaces that are integral to the building’s design.

Experience inside the teaching lab environment with this video either through a VR headset or on your phone/ipad in 360 degrees.



Top five societies for new biologists and zoologists

If you’re a new undergraduate reading this, then first off, congratulations on getting into Bristol! A big part of university life is the clubs and societies you can get involved with. There’s a huge range of them, and you can find full details of societies at the Bristol Students’ Union page. Joining university isn’t easy for anyone, but societies can help the transition – they’re a great way to meet new people, pursue your hobbies, or just try something completely new. Keep an eye out for freshers fair, where you can walk around and chat with the members of any societies you’re interested in (plus, there’s free food). With all that in mind, we’ve asked current students to recommend their favourite societies that are relevant to Biology and Zoology students!

Bristol University Conservation Group

£3 membership for a year

Most of you are probably already aware that we are having a tremendous impact on Earth, including far-reaching issues such as global warming and plastic pollution, all the way to motorboat noise pollution affecting cognitive learning in fish. Often these issues can seem overwhelming, but if you want to play your part in local conservation, then you should really consider the Bristol University Conservation Group.

The society spends weekends on reserves in and around Bristol, helping to conserve UK’s biodiversity, for example, by removing invasive species to allow native species to thrive. This is hugely important, as UK’s nature is not in great shape – by joining the society, you can help conserve UK’s declining biodiversity! Not only this, as the society’s President and 3rd-year biologist, Lucy Bell, told me, but it’s also “a great way for students of Biology and Zoology to get practical experience of some of the problems that we learn about in lectures and labs”. Indeed, in 1st year you’ll likely have a lab discussion about the impacts of invasive species – the society can complement your studies and aid your learning.

If you take the conservation unit in 2nd year, Professor Jane Memmott will tell you about how incredibly beneficial nature is to our wellbeing, including our mental health. This may seem obvious, but it’s pretty easy to spend the entire freshers week inside, drinking and sleeping – it’s important to get outside too! Owen Iredale, 3rd-year biologist and the Tools and Safety Officer, has “found the conservation group a great way to get out into the countryside”, and has helped “conserve a range of interesting wildlife habitats”. Starting at university is a nerve-racking experience for everyone. The Conservation Group, however, as Owen said, is a “super friendly and relaxed society, so it’s a great way for nervous Biology or Zoology freshers to meet other people”.

Ape Alliance Society

£3 membership, or £6 for a joint membership with Roots and Shoots Society (a primate conservation group).

The Ape Alliance Society is another important group dedicated to conservation. As the name suggests, their focus is on Great Ape conservation, specifically raising awareness about the challenges they face, and funding conservation efforts. The society itself is fairly small and tight-knit, so you can make a big difference from within, as Rosie Street (President and 3rd-year biologist) told me. “During the time I have been involved with Ape Alliance, we have run educational workshops in local schools, abseiled down the Avon Gorge in gorilla costumes and organised a showing of King Kong used a pedal-powered cinema, among many other crazy events.” The showing of King Kong raised over £700 for ape conservation, which is incredible for one night. As Rosie said, you can really make a difference with this society -“if you care about animal welfare, the palm oil problem, the loss of endangered species, and are interested in being involved in some wacky activities with some like-minded people then this is the society for you”.

University of Bristol Underwater Club (UBUC)

For a new diver, approximately £260 to qualify: Open Water qualification, personal gear, UBUC and BSAC membership. You can apply for a hardship fund to get up to £100 to help with more pricey societies: www.bristolsu.org.uk/societies-sport/activity-hardship-fund

Many biologists I know are hoping to pursue marine biology as a career, and if you’ve seen Blue Planet 2 then you can understand why. As Lois Flounders, President and 3rd-year zoologist put it, “as biologists and zoologists we should all be enthusiastic to explore and protect the marine world”. If you agree, then the university’s scuba diving society, UBUC, “provides the perfect opportunity to do this with a very sociable and welcoming society.” It’s open to existing divers and complete beginners – they run a taster session during freshers for anyone who wants to give it a go.

If you do join as a beginner, you’ll become a qualified diver over the course of a few months, learning in pool sessions, and doing your qualifying dives on weekend trips – this is a great excuse to get away to beautiful places like Cornwall for a few days with some great people. Lois also highlighted other courses they run too, such as Seasearch, a citizen science project run by the Marine Conservation Society!

Aside from learning to scuba dive, it’s one of the larger societies, as it also attracts ex-students and divers from outside university. You’ll find them at the pub every Tuesday, with socials playing a big part of the society – the highlight being the boat bar crawl. UBUC is a great way to meet students both of similar ages, and across the year groups. Biologists make up a large part of the membership too, so it’s a good way to meet fellow course members!

Dinosoc

£3 membership for a year

Dinosoc is the university’s Palaeontology society. Luke Cadd, Social Secretary and 4th-year Biologist, was quick to recommend it, as it’s “been an amazing place to meet new people who are interested in all things fossil related. It is one of the only societies here at Bristol where I have felt part of a family, which is helped by its rather small size, but also the friendliness and acceptance of everybody who is involved”.

The society puts on a lot of events, for example, field trips, pub nights, and barbeques. You can see some of the beautiful places they visit by taking a look at their gallery here. They also have talks from some of the researchers here in Bristol who have published some fascinating findings on dinosaurs! Luke recommends it to anyone “interested in something a little different”, but also for the social side of things; “not everyone that comes is into fossils, but they love the atmosphere and the people”. So, if you’re interested in fossils, or just want to try something new with some great people, then definitely check it out!

Wildlife Film Society

£5 membership for a year; discounted and free tickets to events

The Wildlife Film Society is fantastic for any budding wildlife filmmakers, or just those who love watching nature documentaries, as Siwan Davies Busby (President and 3rd-year biologist) describes. “Since joining the society in the first year I’ve had the opportunity to attend talks by, and meet, people such as Elizabeth White, George McGavin and even the incredible Sir David Attenborough! The society has given me access to valuable knowledge about the industry and has even given me the opportunity to produce a small natural history documentary series. If you’re not interested in entering the wildlife filmmaking industry, there are also tonnes of opportunities to watch great documentaries from both indie film companies and the BBC.  We also have a wide range of other events from tours of the BBC Natural History Unit to camera equipment tutorials.  Make sure to get your membership and come along to our events!”

As Siwan mentioned, they have put on some really great events, and the tickets are often free or heavily discounted. One of the highlights was definitely Chris Packham interviewing Sir David Attenborough about some of the conservation issues we face. A producer of Spy in the Wild, Philip Dalton, also gave a great talk and brought some of their high-tech animal cameras down for people to have a go on – there are loads of events throughout the year you won’t want to miss!

Written by Ben Cobb (year 3 Zoology BSc)



Nature Xposed

Welcome one and all to Nature Xposed

The show which aims to make you think about the natural world just that little bit differently. Behavioural and freshwater ecologists Benito and Amy are here to give you something to contemplate over your cornflakes, every Friday at 10am on Burst Radio or listen to the regular podcasts on Mixcloud.

Benito’s Explanations

YouTube videos from Mr Benito Wainwright – Behavioural Ecology and Animal Colouration.

During Benito’s undergrad, he created a whole series of revision videos which covered content from entire university modules too!

More links:

 



Life After a Postgraduate Degree

Life After a Postgraduate Degree

Alumni Careers Evening

Less than 8% of entry level PhD students end up as tenured academics1, so what do students do after gaining their PhD? What career options are there? The Life Sciences Building held a careers event featuring talks from five University of Bristol alumni to find the answers. Each speaker completed a postgraduate research degree at the University of Bristol and shared their diverse stories of going from postgraduate students to embarking on their careers. They shared their personal experiences on how the skills they learnt throughout their degrees helped them get to where they are today and gave advice on what you can do to achieve your post-research degree career. We also spoke to current postgraduate students at the subsequent networking session about their thoughts on the talks and plans for their own careers.

The first talk of the evening was from Dr Kate Pressland. Kate did a Zoology Bachelor’s degree at Bristol where she particularly enjoyed the field course to Portugal, as this included a lot of species identification. After this, Kate secured a job in Professor Jane Memmot’s group on a field survey project which required a lot of attention to detail and patience. After this contract, she grabbed a PhD opportunity that arose, investigating pheasants as a non-native species. Kate learnt an important lesson while conducting her PhD research: that game keepers or farmers don’t read academic papers but will listen to people who actually talk to them about practises that may benefit them. Kate found this aspect interesting and wanted to work with practitioners in this way. After her PhD, Kate worked for the Avon Wildlife Trust running a wetland conservation project, and is now responsible for managing Innovative Farmers, a farmer-led research programme run by the Soil Association. Kate advises maximising your transferable skills throughout your PhD in order to make you adaptable to job opportunities that may arise, and being open to various job options, such as working for charities.

Dr Kate Pressland

The next speaker was Dr Celia Duff-Farrier, who completed her Biology undergraduate degree and her PhD in Agricultural Biotechnology in the School of Biological Sciences. Celia then took on a short Postdoctoral position in the same lab, with Prof Gary Foster. After this, Celia left academia and went on to undertake the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP), allowing her to retrain as a Healthcare Scientist in Genomics. The STP is a three-year training programme that trains the individual as a clinical scientist and also provides an MSc qualification. It includes a research project and also an elective project, where Celia went to Brazil to observe private healthcare practices. Celia said that although she initially began her career working in plants, genetics underpins everything, so it is possible to move away from what you originally start working in; however it does require retraining among people who are a lot more knowledgeable about the subject. The working environment is also very different to research labs in a university.

Dr Celia Duff Farrier

Thirdly, Dr Ana Castro-Castellon spoke about her career in water quality. Ana grew up in Colombia, and then moved to Spain, where she undertook her undergraduate degree in biological sciences. She became interested in microbiology and parasitology and moved to the UK to work as a Regional Biologist for Wessex Water. Ana encountered an environmental issue which deserved further research and, so, decided to undertake an MSc with Prof Marian Yallop and Prof Paul Hayes at Bristol, performing research in the area of Ecosystems and Environmental Change. After this, Ana took the opportunity of completing a PhD in Chemical and Environmental Engineering at the University of Oxford. Following this, she joined Thames Water as a Process Scientist. Her current role ensures that the water we drink meets the regulatory criteria to protect public health and the environment. When pursuing a career, Ana believes that it is important to do something that genuinely matters to you because this gives you the energy to progress in your career. Furthermore, Ana advises to take as many opportunities as you can while you are within a role, in order to grow and move on to the next stage in your career.

Dr Ana Castro Castellon

The penultimate speaker was Dr Anna Tiley. Anna graduated from the University of Oxford in 2011, she then undertook an internship at Kew Gardens before starting her PhD. Anna’s PhD was carried out in the Molecular Plant Pathology and Fungal Biology group at the University of Bristol – supervised by Dr Andy Bailey and Prof Gary Foster, and was part of the BBSRC South West Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (SWBio DTP). As part of this PhD studentship, Anna completed a three-month internship at the Royal Society of Biology. After finishing her PhD, Anna secured a Postdoctoral Researcher role based in the Molecular Plant Pathology lab at University College Dublin (UCD) in Ireland. Anna intends on staying within academia by securing a fellowship and has research interests abroad. Anna believes in the importance of being a well-rounded scientist, her suggestions to postgraduate students for being successful include: attending conferences to present research and network, take on opportunities to teach, join societies and apply for internships and travel grants.

Dr Anna Tiley

The final speaker was Dr Karen Varnham. Karen was inspired by a lecture on invasive species during her Behavioural Ecology Masters at Manchester Metropolitan. This led to Karen becoming a self-employed, self-titled, rat-catcher, removing invasive rats from islands where they were causing ecological problems. Feeling she was not yet done taking exams, Karen undertook a PhD as a mature student in Bristol, supervised by Jane Memmott in the Community Ecology Group. After completing her PhD, she worked in the LSB Admin Office for a year, before taking up her current role with the RSPB as their Island Restoration Officer. This role involves advising people within and outside the organisation on best practice methods for removing invasive species and preventing them from becoming established in the first place, as well as training, report writing and developing new projects. Her current job is mainly desk-based but includes enough visits to islands to keep her happy. Whilst she enjoyed being self-employed, Karen believes that working for a larger organisation gives her the opportunity to make a greater impact. Karen said that although a PhD was not essential for her current role, it gave Karen vital background understanding of her job, and improved her technical writing skills.

Dr Karen Varnham

After the talks, a networking session was held in the Life Sciences Skylounge to give students the opportunity to chat with the speakers. General feedback from the audience was how much they enjoyed hearing about the diverse range of career opportunities there are post-PhD. One student said: “although there were only a handful of talks, they are all in different fields, I hadn’t heard of any of these job roles before, so we have been opened to diversity”. Furthermore, for those students who had an idea of what they would like to do, hearing from more people in those fields gave them reassurance: “I’m thinking about working for a charity, and it is nice to know that those working for charities felt valued and it has given me more confidence in the direction I would like to go in”. Overall, this was a fantastic opportunity for postgraduate students to hear from those who have previously been in their situation, to hear how they managed to get to where they are today, and, importantly, provide the students with tips and advice in order to achieve their career goals. Although many students coming to the end of their post-graduate studies are still unsure of what they would like to do next, this event has provided some advice on how they can set themselves up to be in the best possible situation, with many transferrable skills, to ensure they are considered for job opportunities. It is also worth noting that further information for Bristol postgraduates can be found from the Careers Service.

Written by Fiona Belbin (Biological Sciences PhD), and Grace Fraser (year 3 Biology BSc)



Plant Science Outreach- Meiosis and the Generation of Variation

Plant Science Outreach- Meiosis and the Generation of Variation

Plant science is a fundamental area of research at the University of Bristol. The School of Biological Science recently hosted an outreach event on the 9th and 10th of May which communicated the BBSRC funded project “Releasing natural genetic variation in wheat by modulating meiotic crossovers” to 60 school students from around Bristol, arousing their curiosity and interest in plant science and genetics.

Meiosis, captured under the microscope.

The event involved a day-long introduction to meiosis and recombination. Project partners were invited, including Dr Stuart Desjardins from the University of Leicester and Prof Chris Franklin, Dr Eugenio Sanchez-Moran and Dr Kim Osman from the University of Birmingham. From Bristol, Dr Helen Harper, Dr Mark Winfield, Dr Lucy Hyde, Dr Amanda Burridge and Prof Keith Edwards. Prof Edwards made a strong impression on the students, with one student stating that the highlight of the day was ‘hearing Prof Edwards talk.’

Prof Keith Edwards displaying protoplasts from the florescent microscope

Aside from talks, there were videos, experiments and games, all of which brought the project to life for the students and allowed them an insight into life at the university. With a wide variety of activities, it’s no wonder the event was popular with the students’ teachers too. Afterwards, 88% of students said they understood that increasing the genetic variation of crop plants was important for food security and another 94% of students said that, as a result of taking the course, their knowledge of meiosis had increased.

Students viewing their slide under the microscope.

The event was a great success, with teachers commenting that they would like to repeat the event in the coming years, and students saying how it had informed and inspired them and that they really enjoyed the experiments and using the equipment in University labs. It was agreed the event was a great way to stretch and challenge students and encourage them to seek an understanding of current topics, including gene edited crops and why this technology is important.

Students enjoying the teaching labs at the University of Bristol

Students were not sent away empty-handed but were given a course handbook covering the work and research discussed during the workshop. This event may have inspired a future generation of geneticists and plant scientists and shows the importance of outreach programmes in ensuring the future of this research.

Course Handbook

Written by Cara Doyle (Biological Sciences MSc)

A Day in the Life: Head of School

Day in the Life interview with Head of School Professor Mike Benton

Professor Mike Benton
  • What do you normally do before work?

My ideal breakfast would be a kipper or a haggis, but I don’t usually get that I must admit, so a leisurely breakfast where I read the paper, do the crossword and come to work.

  • What is the first thing that you do when you arrive at the LSB?

I kill emails when I arrive. There are usually around 50 emails that have come in, I get these down very quickly, so I apologise to anybody if they have sent an email first thing, I just skim past it with all the spam and all the other stuff that comes through. I then look through my diary to see what is coming up and prepare for meetings, lectures and things like that.

  • Briefly, describe a typical day at work and any interesting things to point out that other members of staff may not know.

It is very difficult to say, and I think everybody will say that there is no such thing as a typical day.

I manage to keep some days clear for research. It is a huge pleasure to be able to get on with projects such as working on mass extinctions, dinosaurs, and all the things I love to do. I often speak to students, masters and PhD’s to find out how they are getting on and to help with their writing, planning, booking visits to museums and those kinds of things.

But at the moment being head of the department I attend a lot of meetings and I have to ask people what on earth all these meetings are. I try to delete as many of them as I can, I go to things and sit there and wonder why I am there sometimes, but there is often an opportunity to speak up for the School of Biological Sciences, so I always do that.

  • What is your favourite part of the day?

I guess my favourite part of the day is after 17:00 because then things become quiet. If you stay on until 18:00 then that is an hour without meetings and without people knocking on the door, a very good moment.

  • Tell us an interesting fact about yourself?

Because I do a lot of fieldwork in China, I go to China maybe once or twice a year and of course being polite one eats what one is given so I have eaten a variety of turtles or terrapins I suppose they are. The most unusual thing I have had to eat was a bit of the larynx of a cow which was a bit like eating a sort of faintly meaty plastic.

  • What is your favourite way to spend your weekends/favourite hobbies?

At the weekend I love to be in my garden which has lots of trees. I love climbing around in the trees when my wife is out and trimming them and cutting the huge hedges, and generally just gardening is a nice fun thing to do.

  • If you could go to any place in the world, where would you go?

I would love to go to Antarctica sometime, I have never been there, and I think many people would say the same. I suppose it is kind of easier to get to every other continent and I have been to every other continent as it happens, but Antarctica would be fun. It’s cold and full of penguins – what could be better than that?

  • Finally, tell us why you love working here!

Well, I love working at the University of Bristol in the Life Sciences building, because you can do what you like. I just love it. I come and go when I like and do what I like and I am getting paid to do my hobby; it’s fantastic.