Photo:

Lauren Laing

Some great questions on the ASK page today! Keep them coming!

Favourite Thing: asking questions, and learning new things! You never stop learning!

My CV

Education:

Bournemouth School for Girls (2002 -2009), University of Exeter (2010 – present)

Qualifications:

A levels is Biology, Geography and Product Design, BTEC Advanced Diploma: Tropical Habitat Conservation, BSc (Hons): Biological Sciences, PADI Rescue Diver Certification.

Work History:

Boots the Chemist, Waitrose.

Current Job:

PhD Student

Employer:

University of Exeter / Fisheries Society of British Isles.

About Me

I’m a fish scientist working on chemical pollutants, who enjoys playing rugby, diving with fish and good food.

I live in Exeter with my Fiancé and I am a PhD student at the University of Exeter, currently in my third year. Outside of work I like to play a lot of rugby and netball, I am also really into SCUBA diving and riding my road bike up and down the hills of Devon, often in the rain!!

I really enjoy cooking, and having friends over to test my skills. Travelling is one of my favourite past times, especially if the food and the diving are good!! I have taken part in research trips in both Madagascar and Oman, aimed at collecting data to assess the health of the local reefs and marine organisms. Marine organisms are threatened in many ways, our research focussed on multiple threats, including stress caused from pollutants in the water from human activities such as farming, boat oil and sewage input!

Here is a picture of me surveying the coral reefs of Madagascar:

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I really enjoy diving, because you can constantly explore, and learn more about the ocean. You can dive the same site 10 times, and see different species each time. I particularly enjoy searching for nudibranchs, a type of mollusc which are often really exciting colours:

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Of course it is always a highlight to see a dolphin in the wild too: This was also taken in Madagascar.

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My Work

I study fish, and try to understand how pollutants can be toxic to wild populations.

I am a PhD student at the University of Exeter. I am trying to understand how chemical pollutants released into the environment, by us, effect both wildlife and humans. We are interested in understanding if pollutants found in our rivers and in drinking water, have an effect on the way genes are expressed and regulated, and to see if this could also impact on an organism in later life, or even across future generations.

We study fish in order to understand more about these chemicals and the effects they may have. In my research, I study two fish species, the Zebrafish and the Three-spined Stickleback. Amazingly, humans share 85% of their genes with fish such as the zebrafish! And so we can start to understand how these chemicals may effect both wildlife and humans.
Here is a video of the first 24 hours of development in the zebrafish, you can see the fish forming around the yolk sac which it uses as an energy sources:

https://youtu.be/eQNxHGpK7Wc

The three spined stickleback is full of character! They live in European fresh waters, they can also live in seawater, which is amazing. They have quite elaborate breeding behaviours too, the male defends his territory and builds himself a nest. After the female has spawned her eggs, he takes care of the eggs, wafting them and protecting them from predators.
Here is a video about the male stickleback and how great they are as fathers:

https://youtu.be/uikKXWWpjkU
 

Hopefully the data produced by scientists in our lab will help policy makers make decisions about the management of particular chemicals, and the protection of both wildlife and human health.

 

My Typical Day

A typical day for me is extremely varied: I could be spending time in the lab, in the aquarium, or at my computer.

I am really lucky to have very varied days in an average week; I could be working with DNA in the lab or maintaining fish in the aquarium, reading scientific papers or coding to analyse genetic data. I also get to be involved in mentoring undergraduate students, learning new techniques and writing up results to publish in scientific journals.

I really enjoy lab work and analysing data, but one of the highlights is studying really interesting species such as the Stickleback.

 

Here is a 4 day old developing Stickleback embryo:

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What I'd do with the money

I would use the money to fund trips for young people from local school to visit labs…

I would use the money to fund trips for young people from local school to visit labs, and get hands on experience. It is really valuable to be able to see what it’s really like to be a scientist, and I am keen to encourage young people to become enthused by STEM subjects.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Enthusiastic, Determined, Sporty.

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Biffy Clyro

What's your favourite food?

Roast Lamb!

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Diving with sharks and dolphins on the coral reefs in Madagascar and Oman!

What did you want to be after you left school?

David Attenborough’s assistant

Were you ever in trouble at school?

Yes – generally for talking too much.

What was your favourite subject at school?

Biology and Sports

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

The best thing so far is when I presented my work at a conference in Ottawa, Canada during the snowy winter. The wind chill was -26 degrees Celsius and its snowed everyday.

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

When I was 18, I spent my gap year living on the coastal edges of the forests of Northern Madagascar. I was surrounded by enthusiastic scientists working on a number of land and marine species, from snakes and chameleons, lemurs and African bird species, to sea urchins and turtles. The community of scientists were extremely enthusiastic about finding answers to new scientific questions, this really inspired me to become a scientist myself.

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

Rugby Player

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

To have enough time to travel more, to own a dog (Golden Retriever), and to have more time in the day to do more science!

Tell us a joke.

Did you hear about the crab that went to the seafood disco? He pulled a muscle

Other stuff

Work photos: