Trinity College Dublin; Dublin City University
Wellcome Trust Sanger Insitute
teaching & research in genetics
I enjoy figuring things out. Biologists are often faced with tricky questions that need ideas from several different areas to be solved. So understanding how people, cells and enzymes behave means that for any problem, we only discover the cause once everything is put together. Sometimes that means “eureka!” And sometimes that means “why didn’t I think of that before?”.
Me and my work
I work on discovering mutations linked to drug resistance in flesh-eating parasites.Read more
Studying biology lets us solve challenges in the world around us. One of these is when we get sick thanks to an infection. Looking at parasites, bacteria and viruses and how they get inside us can tell us about how to dodge them. Just like us, these infectious attackers have their body blueprint written in their cells – in their DNA. This DNA is a map for how to build the parasite or bacteria or virus. By knowing how these are made up, we can figure out what parts of them make us sick. We can do this by comparing different types. For example, one that are resistant to a drug and ones that are not. Or say ones that cause really severe disease and others than only cause milder forms. This also lets us track what changes occur over time. So if we monitor genetic changes in bacteria in a hospital ward, we can watch out for new subtypes emerging and treat patients faster.
My Typical Day
I look at genetic mutations from infections and try to identify if they are linked to disease or drug-resistance.Read more
Science lets us become experts in specific areas, but that means we must communicate to put the parts of the puzzle together. So as a geneticist, I am in contact with colleagues who work on other elements of the same work. These include biochemists, who track the proteins changing in these parasites. And also computer scientists, who help us tackle the large amounts of biological data (DNA sequence) that is now available. Comparing results lets us all figure out what experiments to do next. I have a PhD student so we consult on her progress. A major component of being a scientist is understanding what is being done in other labs, so attending scientific talks and reading research papers is very important. This lets me put my work in context. I also lecture students and am lucky to be in a department that has a focus on teaching. Being new to it, I learn a great deal from my colleagues during discussions during breaks, lunch, etc. Other things include helping with outreach activities (eg like this!) that we do in our department, and also supervising final year projects.
What I'd do with the money
I would build on links I have with an educational development charity called Suas who run a mentoring scheme in NUI GalwayRead more
I would build on links I have with an educational development charity called Suas (http://suas.ie/applymentoring.html). The NUI Galway branch of Suas provide mentoring for 5th and 6th class students. This program could be expanded to add in science experiments, trips to unique Connemara nature reserves, and better access to new tools for learning.
Suas helps schools in Kenya and India that focus on kids that fell out of regular schooling to get back into the education system. These schools do great work as a stepping stone for going back to formal schools – I worked as a teaching assistant in Calcutta in 2002. The tremendous motivation and joy in the children at being taught new things is unfortunately limited by a real lack of resources. Most schools barely have even paper and pencils to go round – such basic items should not be stopping them from learning. I also help fundraising with Suas, and last May 21 of us trekked to Everest basecamp to raise funds for these schools.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
determined, curious, analytical
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Flying down the Alps on a bike brakes screeching trying to overtake cars
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
What did you want to be after you left school?
scientist/vet/architect (or all 3!)
Were you ever in trouble in at school?
No, rarely. I vaguely remember failing religion class.
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
Teach others the skills I have learned
Tell us a joke.