I completed a BSc in Biological Sciences, focusing mainly on ecology and evolution, and an MSc in Molecular Genetics at the University of Leicester. My third-year project, with Will Norton, looked at the effects of early-life stress on behaviour and gene expression (particularly of genes relating to serotonergic signalling) using zebrafish as a model. My MSc project, with Rob Hammond, was investigating the microbiome of the yellow meadow ant, using metagenomics to search for bacteria with antibiotic production encoded in their genomes. This was a bioinformatics heavy sequencing project with an ecological backdrop that allowed me to tie my undergraduate and postgraduate studies together. During my studies I developed an interest in insects and especially in insects that show extreme plasticity, such as eusocial bees and ants.
The project I am doing currently allows me to explore how this plasticity may be controlled and how it may have evolved.
My project, with Liz Duncan at the University of Leeds, is looking at insect polyphenisms, embryogenesis and epigenetics. Many insects show polyphenisms, extreme examples of phenotypic plasticity, whereby two or more distinct phenotypes are produced from a single genotype in response to environmental cues. The basis for this is not clear, though we suspect the DNA methylation machinery may play a role. We aim to use the pea aphid and honeybee, which show polyphenisms and have complete sets of DNA methylation genes, to elucidate how plasticity and embryogenesis in insects may be linked to the DNA methylation machinery.