From single cells to humans: how does life history affect longevity?


Ageing presents one of the greatest socioeconomic and biomedical challenges of the 21st century. There are numerous dietary and pharmacological treatments which can extend healthspan and delay the onset of age-associated disease.  Remarkably, the effects of these treatments are extremely well conserved across the tree of life, from mammals right down to single celled organisms such as yeast.  In this talk I will review these treatments from the perspective of life history, discussing how the effectiveness of a treatment can differ dramatically depending on the age of the organism.  I will explore how, in both single celled organisms and animals, many anti-ageing interventions are ineffective if applied during later life, whilst a transient application during early life can have an effect lasting the remainder of the organism’s lifetime.

StJohn Townsend, PhD Student UCL


Chris Wilson – Bdelloid rotifers: twists and turns in a famous evolutionary scandal

Speaker: Dr. Chris Wilson (Imperial College London)

Title: Bdelloid rotifers: twists and turns in a famous evolutionary scandal

Where: Medical Sciences G46 H O Schild Pharmacology LT, UCL (Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT)

When: 12 July 2018, 17:30


Bdelloid rotifers are microscopic filter-feeding invertebrates, less than half a millimetre long, that live in moss and soil throughout the world. Over 400 species have been described, and all seem to be exclusively female. Individuals lay unfertilised eggs that hatch into identical asexual daughters. The success of this lineage across millions of years is a scandal for evolutionary biologists, because asexuals are supposed to lack the genetic variation needed to adapt to changing conditions. This talk explores how ecology and genetics have been used in attempts to explain this puzzle, leading to some surprising new biology along with a few missteps. Ultimately, the story of these tiny and unassuming rotifers may help explain the function of sex itself, one of the Big Questions in biology.

Laurent Frantz – Understanding domestication in the genomic era

Speaker: Dr. Laurent Frantz (Queen Mary University of London/ The University of Oxford)

Title: Understanding domestication in the genomic era

Where: Anatomy G04 Gavin de Beer LT, UCL (Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT)

When: 31 May 2018, 17:30


Beginning with dogs over 15,000 years ago, the domestication of plant and animals has played a key role in the development of modern societies. Given its fundamental importance, a vast literature from a wide variety of academic disciplines has explored and explained the origins of domestication. For example, domestication has fascinated evolutionary biologists for decades because of the dramatic impact that artificial selection played in the evolution of traits in both domestic plants and animals.
Genomic information, extracted from both modern and archaeological samples have had a tremendous impact on our understanding of animal domestication, not only allowing us to better retrace their origin but also to understand fundamental evolutionary processes (e.g. the role of gene-flow from wild populations). Here I will present novel ancient genomics data-sets from world wide sampling of pigs and dogs and how this new source of data is revolutionising our understanding of their domestication history.

Pontus Skoglund – Learning about evolution from ancient genomes

Speaker: Dr. Pontus Skoglund (The Francis Crick Institute)

Title: Learning about evolution from ancient genomes

Where: Anatomy G04 Gavin de Beer LT, UCL (Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT)

When: 24th April 2018, 17:30


Evolution is defined as genetic change through time, and the only direct way to study such temporal processes in humans and other populations over longer time scales is through ancient DNA sequencing. In the past few years, ancient genomics has begun to fulfil its promise to revolutionise our understanding of the human past, and I will discuss current paradigms for authenticating, analysing, and interpreting ancient genomes. I will also provide examples from our recent research on the identification of selective sweeps and polygenic evolution using data from populations at different points in time, and how hypotheses about population history be tested directly with ancient DNA, such as during the spread of agriculture in Europe, Oceania, and Africa.

LERN Debate 2018 – Synthetic Biology

Recent technological advances are allowing scientists to redesign organisms or even build new life forms from scratch. This new developing area of research steps beyond traditional Genetic Modification (GM), to combine science and engineering in what is known as Synthetic Biology.

Technologies such as CRISPR-Cas are already allowing us to apply GM to a wide range of fields, from pest control to human genome editing. But these potential practical applications are huge, such as bioengineered micromachines/microorganisms that can destroy cancer cells, detect toxic chemicals or produce drugs that are otherwise incredibly difficult to obtain from nature.

Is society ready for this new discipline? Where should the limits be set? What are the benefits and the risks of these “by-design” organisms?

Four prominent researchers specialised in Synthetic Biology from different backgrounds will discuss these and other pressing questions in our annual debate organised in association with the Linnean Society.

  • Professor Robert Edwards (Head of Natural and Environmental Sciences, University of Newcastle)
  • Dr Pablo Carbonell (Senior Staff Scientist at the SynBioChem Centre, Manchester Institute of Biotechnology)
  • Dr Louise Horsfall (Senior Lecturer in Biotechnology at the University of Edinburgh and EPSRC Early Career Fellow)
  • Professor Jim Dunwell (Professor of Plant Biotechnology at the University of Reading)

Date: 19th April 2018, from 5.30pm

Venue: The Linnean Society of London, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BF, United Kingdom

The event is free and open to all but registration is essential. Seats will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

Follow this link to register

Stay tuned for further updates!