I completed my undergraduate degree in Zoology with a first class degree from the University of Liverpool. Here I worked on the zebrafish stress and pain response and was lucky enough to get enough results in my honours project to have my work published. I stayed at the University of Liverpool for my MRes in Advanced Biological sciences (Structural biology) which I completed with a distinction. For my Masters work I investigated the structural and genetic differences of Myoglobin in avian species, focusing on changes that occurred in diving species. At the end of my Masters I was invited to talk about this work at the International conference on oxygen binding proteins in Hamburg. It was during my time at Liverpool that I decided I wanted to continue in academia but was ready for a change of environment and so applied to the University of York for my PhD.
Soda lake cichlids living in the extremely harsh conditions of lakes Natron and Magadi in East Africa must withstand the harsh environment of high pH (8.8-11), high salinity and high temperatures (30-43°C). As well as exposure to anoxic / hypoxic conditions and reactive oxygen species (ROS). How these species adapt to environmental change due to environmental pressures is important considering current estimates of anthropogenic-driven climate change. The few species surviving in these waters belong to the genus Alcolapia and provide a simplified model at examining genetic adaptation.
Exploration of genomic and transcriptomic data, effected by the increase in multiple stressors seen in the evolution of Alcolapia from freshwater inhabitants to soda lake conditions, will highlight targets of selection and contribute to our understanding of how fish adapt to changing environmental conditions. As such this project aims to focus on what makes Alcolapia special by examining these physiological adaptations at the molecular, genetic and developmental level. Currently we are examining the effects of these conditions on muscle generation and maintenance, viability of sperm in extreme conditions and excretory mechanisms.