Fife (five) polar explorers and plenty of kids = Cool fun

In early December, a team of polar enthusiasts from the School of Biology in St Andrews (Dr Sonja Heinrich, Dr Rebecca Kinnear and 5 postgraduate students), visited St Columba’s R C Primary School in Cupar. As part of the UK’s “Polar Explorer STEM Programme”, St Columba’s pupils had spent the last couple of months learning all about the Polar Regions.

Full details in the St Andrews Students in the Antarctic Blog here.

A summer of genome editing

The School of Biology hosted Nabihah Akhtar, a 6th year pupil at Glenwood High School in Glenrothes, for 4 weeks this Summer on a Nuffield Foundation Research Placement. These placements are particularly aimed at pupils without a family history of going to university or who attend schools in less well-off areas, and provide over 1,000 pupils each year with the opportunity to work alongside professional scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians.

Nabihah’s project in the MacNeill lab in the Biomedical Sciences Research Complex saw her using cutting-edge CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology (being used elsewhere to repair damaged genes in human embryos) to delete previously unstudied genes encoding conserved microproteins in fission yeast, giving her first-hand experience of on- and off-target effects encountered during the editing process.

Nabihah presented her results at the Nuffield Research Placement 2017 Celebration Event at the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh at the end of August, where she was presented with a certificate by Rolls-Royce STEM Ambassador Dr Andrew Russell.

Sponsor: The Nuffield Foundation
Photographs: Alan Richardson Photography

St Andrews Science Discovery Day

The Centre for Research into Ecological and Environmental Modelling (CREEM) ran a stand at the University of St Andrews Science Discovery Day event on March 4th.

The CREEM stand was manned by Charles Paxton, Claudia Faustino, Natacha Aguilar de Soto, Guilherme Bortolotto and Ursula Verfuss (from SMRU Consulting).  The group ran three different activities demonstrating different methods for estimating the abundance of animals and levels of species biodiversity.  These activities relate to the work done by CREEM in terms of designing methods for surveying and sampling wildlife populations.


St Andrews Science Discovery Day

SMRU hosted two activities at the Physics and Astronomy building as part of St Andrews Science Discovery Day on 4/3/2017, both titled of ‘Who are you and what have you been eating?’

One activity focused on the use of photo-identification to study populations of marine mammals. We had an explanatory poster on how and why we identify individuals of cetacean and seal species using natural markings. The kids & adults could choose to play one or more matching games with sperm whale flukes, killer whale dorsal fins, bottlenose dolphin dorsal fins and harbour or grey seal pelage photographs.

The second activity focused on how and why we study seal diet. A series of fake seal scats, made out of play-doh were filled with different grains and seeds, and lab coats and tweezers were provided to each children. After they had found all the fake otoliths in the scat, we could discuss what kind of and how much fish that seal might have been eating. Real otoliths were available to look through a magnifying lens.

6 PhD students, one research assistant and one post-doc were involved in facilitating the activities on the day.


Art for science sake

sparkProfessor Frank Gunn-Moore is opening a retrospective exhibition of art works by Samuel Robin Spark at the Patriothall Gallery in Edinburgh, on Thursday 30th June in Edinburgh. Proceeds from the exhibition will be donated to Alzheimer’s disease research at the School of Biology, University of St Andrews.

Patriothall Gallery

1 Patriothall,
Off Hamilton Place,
Edinburgh EH3 5AY

Curated by Zoe Hay.

The exhibition runs from Friday 1st to Tuesday 12th July, Weekdays 11am – 4pm, Weekends 12pm – 6pm

BBC dementia season

Prof Frank Gunn-MooreIMG_2622 of the School of Biology is appearing on ‘Brainwaves‘ on BBC Radio Scotland this week, as part of the BBC’s current season about  living with dementia.

Neurobiologists working with Professor Gunn-Moore at the School of Biology University of St Andrews are interested in studying how proteins work in living cells. His group is particularly concerned with a number of proteins that are involved in the formation and development of the mammalian nervous system and how they are affected in diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Cancer.  The group takes a truly interdisciplinary approach to study these processes, working in advanced areas of Biology, Chemistry and Physics.

More about:


The nature of hummingbirds


Dr Sue Healy of the School of Biology, and fellow researcher Andy Hurly from the University of Lethbridge have been filming a documentary about animal cognition in the wild for the prestigious nature series The Nature of Things.  They helped filmmakers to capture spectacular slow motion footage of male rufous hummingbirds doing a “timing” experiment, where they learn the re-fill rates of artificial flowers and time their visits accordingly.

The show will air in Canada on CBC in late Autumn, and should appear on UK screens after that.

For more photos and details of the documentary shoot on the Insect Behavioural Ecology blog

BioBlitz 2016

St Andrews BioBlitz took place last week on Friday and Saturday.  This is the third year of BioBlitz in St Andrews. This years’ event was attended by children from Crail and Greyfriars schools, home schoolers, volunteers from postgraduate and undergraduate courses, University staff, visiting specialists, and many enthusiastic members of the public.

At the time of writing the total number of species identified stands at around 420.  Jack Sewell from the Marine Biological Association’s Education Team won the BioBlitz Goody Basket (generously filled with help from St Andrews Brewing Co, J&G Innes, and Topping & Co.) for making the closest guess to this end-of-day species count.  The total number of species so far is less than in 2015, but specialists are still working on processing samples and identifying species. This means that the final species count is not yet available.  Although BioBlitz officially takes place over two days, in practice there are of course months of preparation before the event, organising teams of people, publicity, and specialists. After BioBlitz has taken place there is still more work to be done, classifying and confirming all the species observed.  Species seen include organisms of all kinds of sizes, from large birds to marine creatures on the microscopic scale – and some are much harder to identify ‘for sure’ than others!

Amongst species identified so far, there has been one which is new in the UK, and at least one other species that is new to Scotland. Further details will emerge as scientists compare the St Andrews database more carefully with records held in Fife, and in the National BioBlitz network.  Data from previous years are available at the National BioBlitz Network Gateway website and the 2016 data will also be there as soon as it is ready.

Bioblitz 2016 was funded by the School of Biology (Public Engagement) and the Big Lottery Fund.  Bioblitz also gratefully acknowledges help from Transition, the University of St Andrews, The Scottish Oceans Institute, MASTS, and the Marine Biological Association.

Thanks to everyone who took part.

There are many more pictures of the event on the BioBlitz Facebook page at