News archive - 2010

 September 2010

Model of cardiovascular systemPreventing cardiovascular disease in an obese world

Jon Gibbins gave a talk on 'Preventing cardiovascular disease in an obese world' at the British Science Festival. He considered the impact of scientific research on cardiovascular disease, exploring the key approaches in preventing heart attacks and strokes. The presentation highlighted successes, troubling trends and ongoing research solutions. His talk was preceded by a press conference.

Green machine: Why our walls really should have ears

Tijana Blanusa presented the results of her work on the vegetation and its potential for urban heat island mitigation, at the World Green Roof Congress in London. This resulted in a feature in the New Scientist entitled 'Why our walls should really have ears'.

Ross Cameron presented to the Local Government Association on the role of urban green space and how it relates to the current policy framework within the UK.

Garden spider photograph by Dr Mark Fellowes-Spiders recorded at Whiteknights campus

Graham Holloway has been interviewed by local radio, the local press and Meridian TV news on the reasons why the Whiteknights campus is the fifth most diverse location in the UK for recorded spider species.

8th International Conference on Pseudomonas syringae pathovars and related pathogens, Aug 31-Sept. 3

Rob Jackson co-organised the successful 8th International Conference on Pseudomonas syringae pathovars and related pathogens, Aug 31-Sept. 3, held in Oxford. Over 140 delegates from 27 countries attended the conference, in which Rob gave a talk on the pathogen of Horse Chestnuts and PhD student Federico Dorati presented a poster and provided conference support along with Glyn Barrett. Rob obtained funding and sponsorship from 6 UK and US learned societies as well as Illumina for the meeting. The University of Reading featured prominently, most notably hosting the conference website - Rob has been asked to maintain the website and add overviews of the talks for future reference.

Committee membership

Sam Boateng has been voted onto the committee of the British Society for Cardiovascular Research.

Harris Garden

The Grounds Department have finally assumHarris Gardens Benched responsibility for the Harris Garden, following a few hiccups. They have received extra funding from the University which means that a member of Giles Reynold's staff, Peter, is now assigned to work full-time in the Garden, so grass cutting and maintenance is now going ahead in preparation for Sunday's open day. The Grounds Department have also received funding to undertake some initial work to reduce labour. This will entail a number of changes and exciting developments which will mean the Harris Garden will be different but very attractive. There are two Open Days left this year - the second Sundays of September (in aid of the local Hardy Plant Society and the Friends) and October (the University's Pre-School) and six next year, April to September, all in aid of charities. David Hewitt would be happy to pass on details of how to join the Friends, please contact:

August 2010

£300,000 awarded by the British Heart foundation for a grant entitled "The virtual platelet - the development of a predictive mathematical model for the complex regulation of platelet function"</o:p>

This 3 year multidisciplinary project to develop a mathematical model of the regulation of platelet function will, in time lead to the availability of a predictive model that will enable experiments to be performed "in silico" that would be impossible or difficult in the wet lab, and may be used to test the validity of potential new anti-thrombotic drug targets. This is a team effort: the successful applicants are Jonathan Gibbins, Marcus Tindall, Mike Fry, Fazil Baksh, Peter Grindrod, Julie Lovegrove, Sakthi Vaiyapuri, Chris Jones, Ron Stanley, and external co-applicants Alison Goodall (Leicester) and Willem Ouwehand (Sanger and Cambridge). The award will fund 2 postdocs: a biologist (Will Kaiser currently a final year postgraduate student with Jon) and a Mathematician (TBA). Congratulations to the group!

National Student Survey

Biological Sciences did well in this year's National Student Survey, where recent graduates are asked to rate how satisfied they are with their degree programme. Due to numbers it is difficult to separate out degree programmes, with the system reporting numbers for Biological Sciences and related subjects, and zoology. Zoology gained an exceptional 96% satisfaction rate, which was joint fifth in the country in that subject, and the joint second highest in the University, coming in behind Italian, and joint with Law. Biology and related subjects scored a very creditable 90%, which is better than the University average (88%) and well above the sector average. Of course there are areas we can improve on, and I'm sure Mike will be working with us to target specific shortcomings. While there are many flaws with surveys such as this, they do inform newspaper league tables and our relative subject-specific rankings, so they can't be ignored. Nevertheless, while we can take lessons from this, we can also take pride in how well our students view their time spent at Reading.

Athena SWAN Silver Award

The School has won a prestigious Athena SWAN silver award. This is an outstanding achievement, and we are the first School in the University to win this award at the first attempt.

Athena SWAN awards recognise and celebrate good practice on recruiting, retaining and promoting women in SET in higher education. The submission was organized by Kim Watson, working with Gail Hutchinson, Karen Henderson, Tim Richardson and Mark Fellowes, and supported by a large number of colleagues who helped collate all the data.

i4Life 'Indexing for Life' - a true taxonomic infrastructure project!

Frank Bisby has completed the formalities on his new project 'Indexing for Life' (i4Life). As well as funding the continued development of the Catalogue of Life up to 2013 the project is to use the Catalogue of Life as a yardstick with which to harmonise the different species catalogues presently used by six major global biodiversity programmes, and to make the Catalogue of Life available within each of these programmes. For the first time it will be possible to measure the extent of species known to all these different programmes around the world, and to traverse or index their different data sets side by side. The project is funded by the EC e-Infrastructures Programme. Dr Alastair Culham will take on the technical co-ordination of the project, following Frank's retirement. The 12 partners are the University of Reading (co-ordinator), Species 2000 Reading, EBI Cambridge, GBIF Copenhagen, MIZPas Warsaw, KNAW Utrecht, ETI Amsterdam, IUCN Geneva, Cardiff Univ., BGBM Berlin, the Smithsonian Washington, and MNHN Paris.

1st August 2010

Head of School

We are pleased to welcome Dr Mark Fellowes as our new Head of School. We also thank Professor Gavin Brooks, who has held the position for the last two years, for his hard work and wish him sucess in his new role as Dean of Science.

Head of Biomedical Sciences

Professor Simon Andrews takes over from Professor Ketan Patel

Director of Postgraduate Research

Dr Julie Hawkins succeeds Dr Sue Todd

Applied Statistics moves to Maths

Applied Statistics will no longer be part of the School of Biological Sciences as they have moved to Mathematics.

July 2010

We are pleased to welcome Dr Angela Clerk and Professor Peter Sugden to SBS as our two new members of academic staff within the ICMR. Angela and Peter have moved to Reading from Imperial College London with members of their research team (Dr Stephen Fuller and Dr Emre Amirak).

May 2010

An appleChelsea Flower Show 2010

24th-29th May

This years stand was awarded a Bronze medal. It was devoted to the National Fruit Collection giving visitors a chance to see the science behind the protection of genetic resources for the future. Read the press release University of Reading at the Chelsea Flower Show- Securing the future of fruit

The national fruit collection is located at Brogdale Farm, near Faversham in Kent and is owned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). A team lead by  at the School of Biological Sciencecs at Reading has taken over responsibility for the curation and maintenance of this collection in collaboration with the Farm Advisory Services Team (FAST).

Professor Simon Andrews appears on BBC Radio Berkshire to discuss the news that scientists have created 'Artificial life'

21 May

Professor Andrews (Biological Sciences) explains to Anne Diamond's listeners how significant is the news that scientists in the US have succeeded in developing the first living cell to be controlled entirely by synthetic DNA. Listen to the interview here (32mins in to the programme)

Catalogue of Life 2010 launched at UN Biodiversity Meeting in Nairobi

The Catalogue of Life Special 2010 Edition is the most complete and integrated species list known to man. It has 77 databases feeding into an inventory of 1,257,735 species of plants, animals, fungi and micro-organisms associated with 2,369,683 names.

said: "The Catalogue of Life programme is vital to building the world's biodiversity knowledge systems of the future and the Special 2010 Edition is a celebration of the diversity of life on Earth. Expert validation of recorded species will not only boost our understanding of the living world today but also allow governments, agencies and businesses to improve their future modelling to benefit our natural resources, and to document biotic resources world-wide. Through the Convention, 193 countries attempt to manage the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from the use of genetic resources. This work is facilitated by a taxonomic framework cataloguing all known species."

Read the full Catalogue of Life Press Release.

April 2010

Volunteers wanted now for new garden bird research

We want to estimate how much and what type of food people in Reading are providing for wild birds in their gardens and to to see whether feeding birds in your garden reduces the numbers of insects on plants.

Visit the Garden Watch for more details.

Cocoa leaves29 March 2010

New five-year project to assess the threat climate change poses to cocoa

Leading the world's fight to ensure the sustainability of cocoa production is the School of Biological Sciences at Reading. Pests and diseases already destroy about a third of potential cocoa production, and with climate change there will be a greater threat to future supplies of cocoa. With funds for a new five-year project to assess the threat climate change poses to cocoa, Reading is now in a unique position to examine all three main risks to the crop.

 Read the full news item<AEPICTURE name="biosci-cocoapod1" a <>

An apple16th March 210

Knowledge Transfer Partnership with the Royal Horticultural Society

We have just won a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with the Royal Horticultural Society. This will involve collaboration where the University will help provide strategic input to the RHS science programme, particularly on their 'Plants for Bugs' project (aimed at understanding / improving the biodiversity of urban gardens). The project will involve recruiting a new KTP Associate, who will be managed by a number of academics within the Urban Biodiversity Group (Prof James Cook as the knowledge-base supervisor, Dr Alastair Culham providing guidance on plant identification and Dr Ross Cameron as lead academic and horticultural advisor).

10th March 2010

Evolution research is New Scientist front cover

Evolutionary research led by the School's Professor Mark Pagel, and published in the journal Nature, is featured as the front cover story in the popular science magazine  New Scientist this week. 

In a paper published in the 21 January issue of Nature entitled "Phylogenies reveal new interpretation of speciation and the Red Queen", Mark Pagel's research group puts forward the idea that speciation is caused by single rare events that are on their own sufficient to bring about reproductive isolation. Their findings explain why speciation occurs at a constant rate among closely related species over millions of years and may also help to explain why some groups have large numbers of species and others very few: if the list of potential causes of speciation is short, a slower rate of speciation is expected and vice versa. Their work provides a new interpretation of the idea of the Red Queen - that you must run fast just to stay in the same place - by suggesting that species don't so much run in place as simply wait for the next sufficient cause of speciation to occur.

Read the university news page...

February 2010

New Staff

Dr Simon Branford joined the School on 1 February to work as a Postdoc with Professor Mark Pagel. This post is funded as part of the Leverhulme award to Professor Pagel to work on the factors that influence the rates at which languages evolve. The work will include collecting data on phonemes in different languages and then help to develop a statistical model to describe how phoneme-use evolves across sets of related languages.

Mrs Mhairi Stevens started here as a Research Technician in the Vertebrate Pest Unit (VPU). Mhairi will be working with Colin Prescott.

Dr Gabor Sramko has joined us from the University of Debrecen in Hungary as an Academic Visitor with Dr Julie Hawkins until February 2011. He will be working on the charismatic sexually deceptive orchids, Ophrys fuciflora as well as investigating evolutionary patterns in another orchid genus, Himantoglossum.

Marsh Horticultural Research Award

Professor Paul Hadley

Cocoa leavesWe congratulate Paul Hadley on the award of the Marsh Award. This is awarded annually by the Royal Horticultural Society 'to recognise individuals who have made an outstanding contribution in conducting long term research into fruit or vegetable production'. The award will be presented at the RHS Annual Awards Ceremony on 15 February.

Paul has been elected Chair of the next International Cocoa Research Conference which will be held in 2013. This is the main international conference on cocoa research which is held every four years. Paul and the cocoa group have had three new projects approved on cocoa in recent weeks. Firstly, a project on the genetics of cocoa swollen shoot virus which is being carried out by Andy Wetten, secondly, a two year project on cadmium uptake in cocoa which will be carried out by Nick Cryer and thirdly, a five year study on climate change effects on cocoa which will be carried out through two PhD studentships.

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