Institute seminar series

Institute seminar series

Pic showing vector 20-21 Seminar Series Header

The 2020-2021 season of Institute seminars has arrived! We are in the process of inviting some great external speakers, so we hope that as many of you as possible will be able to tune in. The current health restrictions obviously dictate we cannot bring the speakers into our Lecture Theatres but we will be bringing them directly into your living-room, kitchen, study area - wherever you Zoom from!

The Institute seminars will cover a broad range of areas, from biodiversity, evolutionary biology, ecosystems and conservation through to areas of pathogen biology, transmission, epidemiology and modelling. We hope there will be something for everyone. 

Before each seminar an email will go out with details of the speaker, the title, the host and the Zoom URL. We also hope to introduce post-Seminar breakout rooms for individuals and small groups to meet with the speaker via zoom so watch this space for details

Also see our listing for upcoming Internal Seminars (Friday seminar series) which features talks by PhD students and also the Postdoc & PI seminars.

Hope to see you all in the zoom-grid...

September 23 - Eric Postma (Exeter University): "The causes and consequences of reproductive timing: Human life history evolution in action?"

Erik Postma pictureAre humans still evolving? Have our traits changed recently as a consequence of natural selection? 

Erik Postma, from the University of Exeter (UK), will try to answer these puzzling questions on Wednesday 23 at 1PM BST, kicking off the 20-21 GK Seminar Series.

Erik is an evolutionary biologist interested in the causes and consequences of individual variation in important biological traits. He tests predictions of evolutionary theory in a broad range of species, from fish to humans. Apart from his successful role as a scientist, Erik is very interested in life-work balance and he chairs several working groups focussed on student well-being and career development for early-career researchers. You can find more about Erik’s research and interests here,, and here,

Zoom link:

Zoom ID: 916 1360 6870 (no passcode required)

Summary: Has human evolution come to a halt? Answering this enigmatic question requires knowledge of how the two key requirements for adaptive evolution – genetic variation and selection – have changed over recent centuries, and how genetic and non-genetic processes have contributed to the striking changes in human life-histories that have occurred during this time. In this talk, I will use a uniquely comprehensive genealogical dataset covering multiple centuries to estimate selection and genetic variation for reproductive timing, and how these have changed over time. I will then compare these to the observed rate of evolution over the past three centuries, and discuss potential causes for any discrepancies with theoretical predictions of evolutionary change.

September 30 - Maria Bernabeu (EMBL Barcelona) : "Understanding cerebral malaria with new engineered and computational models "

Maria Bernabeu pictureIt is our pleasure to announce our first speaker for the Garscube 20202 Seminar Series will be Dr. Maria Bernabeu (EMBL - Barcelona; Her lab focuses on understanding the mechanisms that lead to vascular dysfunction in cerebral malaria by developing new in vitro models of the human blood–brain barrier. Some of her latest publications can be found below:
Duffy F, Bernabeu M, et al. (2019) Meta-analysis of Plasmodium falciparum var Signatures Contributing to Severe Malaria in African Children and Indian Adults.MBio 10(2) doi: 10.1128/mBio.00217-19

Title: Understanding cerebral malaria with new engineered and computational models 

Abstract: Cerebral malaria (CM) is the most life-threatening severe complication of Plasmodium falciparum infection. Infected red blood cells (iRBC) sequestration in the brain microvasculature is the main pathogenic feature found in CM patients. However, the lack of direct access to the brain during CM episodes has hampered our understanding of this malaria complication. We are developing machine learning models to better understand the host and parasite features that drive CM in a pediatric and adult CM cohort in Rourkela, India, compared to a pediatric cohort in Malawi. Our results reveal commonalities across broad geographic regions and age groups, including enrichment of var transcripts that encode for binding to endothelial protein C receptor (EPCR). This information is used to develop novel in vitro engineered vascular models to better understand P. falciparum­-iRBC interactions with human brain blood vessels. Our first engineered 3D brain microvessel model (100 µm) displays a wide range of physiological and pathological wall shear stress within the same device. Our second model recapitulates microvascular obstruction in endothelialized capillary-size vessels (5 – 10 µm), and mimics flow dynamics of blood transition from arterioles to capillaries to venules. Altogether, these systems represent a new platform to study the biomechanical and biological determinants of P. falciparum-iRBC sequestration in CM.  

The zoom details are:
Topic: External seminar - Dr. Maria Bernabeu (EMBL)
Time: Sep 30, 2020 01:00 PM London
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 920 4844 0306
Passcode: 254003
Please get in touch with Juan Quintana if you would like to meet Maria after her seminar. Juan will organise a break-out zoom room for an informal chat afterwards.
We look forward to seeing you all there,
Host: Dr. Juan F. Quintana



October 07 (CVR Seminar) - John Briggs (MRC-LMB, University of Cambridge) - "HIV-1, influenza A and SARS-CoV-2..."

John Briggs pictureProf. John  Briggs (MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge)

Prof. Briggs has been a pioneer of the application of Cryo-electron tomography to determining virus structure, in particular retroviruses.
Seminar Title
"HIV-1, influenza A and SARS-CoV-2 - studying proteins within virions using cryo-electron tomography"

Join Zoom Meeting at 1pm:

Meeting ID: 924 1072 9594
Passcode: 158697
Host: David Bhella


October 14 - Juan Manuel Morales (Universidad Nacional del Comahue ) -"Animal movement, frugivory, and seed dispersal"

Animal movement, frugivory, and seed dispersal

Juan Morales Research picMany plants depend on animals to disperse their offspring. Here I review the connections between animal movement and seed dispersal.
Modelling seed dispersal by animals seems straightforward: we need a way to keep track of the position of the animal through time and a clock for how long seeds travel with the animal. Simple models show how different elements of the biology of the dispersal process can lead to very different seed dispersal kernels, including facilitating the longest distance dispersal events. When a more realistic movement process is considered that it is related to the spatial distribution of resources, we can see how both seed consumption and dispersal vary according to the neighborhoods of focal plants.

Progress in hierarchical data analysis tools allows us to fit joint-species frugivory models where species-level movement and foraging processes are modelled as a function of species traits and their hylogenetic relationships. We have developed such models with bird movement and foraging data from tropical and temperate communities.
Our results show how plant-frugivore interactions emerge from frugivores’ behavior in a spatially explicit setting. This enables us to predict how interactions are changed following extinctions, and hence, to better quantify the vulnerability of plant species to disperser loss.
Overall, there has been great progress in the study of seed dispersal by animals but we still need a better understanding of seed retention times, and of how bird physiology influences fruit choice.
Further improvements in our ability to understand and predict seed dispersal by animals would probably also require considering within and among species interactions.

Picture of Juan Morales

Juan Manuel Morales

INIBIOMA, CONICET, Universidad Nacional del Comahue
Leverhulme Visiting Professor at University of Glasgow

Seminar Host :Professor Dan Haydon

Zoom link:

Zoom ID: 918 9113 4777

October 21 - Maria Eugenia Grillet (Universidad Central De Venezuela) : " Eco-Epidemiology of Vector-Borne Infections..."

Maria Grillet pictureTitle: Eco-Epidemiology of Vector-Borne Infections: A Spatial and Temporal Approach for Disentangling the Mechanisms and Processes of Pathogen Transmission 

Summary: I will present some findings of my research (including the approaches to address the questions) trying to understand how parasite–host interactions, and selected ecological and epidemiological factors shape and drive the short- and long-term spatial and temporal dynamics of some tropical insect-borne diseases (e.g., malaria, dengue, chikungunya, onchocerciasis, EEV).

Zoom link (1pm - October 21): 

Meeting ID: 918 5536 2658
Passcode: 965482

Seminar Host: Professor Heather Ferguson


October 28 - Mizeck Chagunda (University of Hohenheim) :"Towards a Paradigm shift in Dairy Cattle Breeding in Sub-Saharan Africa"

Mizeck Chagunda picture

Towards a paradigm shift in dairy cattle genetic improvement in Sub-Saharan Africa

For some time, genetic improvement in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has been dominated by importation of temperate breeds and germplasm.  However, in most countries, this use of inappropriate breeds and breeding strategies has resulted in very little realised genetic gain among smallholder farmers.  In real terms, this little realised genetic gain has translated into low yields and significant yield gaps.  This has partly been due to the fact that breeding goals and long term breeding strategies for smallholder dairy farmers in SSA have not been defined clearly.  Further, most of the dairy sectors in SSA have not fully utilised the strength of the indigenous genotypes. Although indigenous livestock breeds may not have as high milk yield as their exotic counterparts under certain production systems, they possess valuable traits such as tolerance and resistance to disease, high fertility, good maternal ability, unique product qualities, longevity and adaptation to harsh environments and poor quality feeds.  Through examining the genetic history and dairy breeding strategies in SSA, this presentation explores some fundamental components for a pathway towards a paradigm shift in dairy cattle genetic improvement in Sub-Saharan Africa.



Professor Mizeck Chagunda

Mizeck is a quantitative geneticist whose research aims to contribute to developing efficient livestock systems through integration of information, data and methodologies from across disciplines, with the recognition that biological problems are rarely solved in isolation of the system as a whole.

Host: Davina Hill


November 04 - Amy Pedersen (University of Edinburgh): "The ecology of infection, immunity and transmission in a wild rodent model"

Amy Pederson picture

The ecology of infection, immunity and transmission in a wild rodent model
Amy B. Pedersen
Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Centre for Immunity, Infection and Evolution, School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK


(Wednesday, 04 November - 1pm via zoom)

Despite great concern about the current global health threat of infectious diseases in humans and domestic animals, we still don’t have a clear understanding about how ecological heterogeneity determines infection burdens, disease, transmission, or how to successfully control infections in variable populations. Most drug treatments are selected using data from laboratory animal systems such as inbred mice.
While these models are essential for understanding the molecular and cellular responses, they do not capture the variability inherent in natural populations, humans and animals alike. Our over-reliance on highly controlled, laboratory models may underlie some of our failures to adequately manage disease burdens in real-world settings, where individuals compete for food, mates and space; endure seasonal and spatial environmental variability; and are exposed to a vast array of parasites and pathogens. These sources of variation affect the dynamics of infection and yet this variation is missing in most laboratory studies.
Amy Pedersen Seminar graphicOver the past 10 years, we have established a wild rodent– parasite community system in order to investigate the causes and consequences of this ecological heterogeneity for host-parasite interactions.  In this seminar, I will show how we are using a hybrid wild/laboratory rodent model to address the ecology of infection/coinfection, immunity and parasite transmission. Specifically, I will talk about: (i) what determines susceptibility to parasites in the wild?, (ii) how resource supplementation can impact parasite infection and treatment efficacy, and lastly, (iii) whether we can use field experiments to measure the importance of cross species transmission in this multi-host system? Together this pairing of both the lab and natural setting provides a unique and powerful opportunity to understand the causes and consequences of ecological heterogeneity on infection, immunity and disease control.

Zoom Link:

Meeting ID: 944 8691 7928

Passcode: 241426

Host: Simon Babayan

November 18 - Valentina Di Santo (Stockholm University) Title of Seminar TBA

Valentina Di Santo pictureDetails to be announced soon

November 25 - Tim Anderson (Texas Biomedical Research Institute) Title of Seminar TBA

Tim Anderson pictureDetails to be announced soon

December 02 - Simon Creer (Bangor University) Title of Seminar TBA

Simon Creer pictureDetails to be announced soon

December 11 - Paul Walton (Species and Habitat Conservation at RSPB Scotland)

Paul Walton pictureDetails to be announced soon

February 03 - Jamartin Sihite (BOS Foundation, Borneo, Indonesia) Details TBA

Details to be announced soonjamartin Sihite picture

March 03 - Meenakshi Gautham (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) - Details TBA

Meenakshi Gautham pictureDetails to be announced soon