Biography Monday, Jul 25 2011
I have had a curiosity about how things work, and an interest in telling people about it, for as long as I can remember. At the age of five this involved fiddling with wires, bulbs and batteries and trying to build small circuits to make the bulbs light up. This broadened at school, with an interest in chemistry and biology developing early on and culminated in A-levels in these subjects, along with music.
I am the third generation to work in science, after my maternal uncle and grandfather. Unlike them, my training is more in chemistry than biology. However, like them, I prefer research questions in biology. The unusual combination of means my strongest interest is in using physical and chemical techniques to solve problems in biological systems. This approach is known as chemical biology.
This interest in working between disciplines started with my first degree, in medicinal chemistry at (UCL, 2004), returning to the city where I was born. After graduating, I worked in drug design and development in industry for a year before starting my postgraduate work. I did an MRes and PhD at the Institute of Chemical Biology with the Templer, Gaffney and Woscholski groups. I synthesised lipids called PI-4-Ps, characterised their physical behaviour adn explored some of their effects on phosphatase activity.
After a short post-doctoral project in a related investigation in inositides at Imperial College, I did a teaching course and then took a post-doctoral position at the School of Biosciences, University of Nottingham. During this project, I developed a novel and reliable means for profiling the lipid and protein fractions of part of a plant organelle (research paper can be found here). During this time, I began to blog about all aspects of lipids, from well-understood features of their behaviour and chemistry, to new developments.
Following this project, I left the UK to do a post-doctoral project at the University of Utrecht (Universiteit Utrecht), in the Membrane Biochemistry and Biophysics Group. I researched the lipid composition of a parent strain of E. coli through the cell cycle (paper here), and the physical behaviour of lipid systems as models for chemical stress in single-celled organisms. I explored this further at the University of Bergen, determining the modulation of lipid abundance in the cell cycle of the Gram-positive Listeria innocua (paper here) and alga Desmodesmus quadricauda (paper here). This gave me an interest in lipid development in multi-cellular organisms, especially in development.
This led me to take a position with Dr Albert Koulman at the Core Metabolomics and Lipidomics Laboratory at the Insitute of Metabolic Science at the University of Cambridge. My work with Albert has foused on lipid metabolism associated with infant development, gestational diabetes, and maternal and paternal nutritional programming. I have also developed several lipidomics tools both for data collection and analysis. This includes comprehensive lipidomics data collection from a variety of mammalian tissues (paper here) and the development of Lipid Traffic Analysis (LTA). LTA has been used in studies about paternal nutritional programming, gestational diabetes, increased risk of type 2 diabetes after pregnancy and dietary supplementation of PUFAs.
I am currently working at the Jodrell Laboratory at RBG Kew on lipid and sterol metabolism in bees, with Prof Phil Stevenson.