School of Life Sciences celebrates International Women’s Day 2018

Today is International Women’s Day. In celebration of this yearly event, we met with some of our female students to find out the projects they’re undertaking as part of their studies at the School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln UK.

After being recognised for its commitment to advancing women’s careers in STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine), the University of Lincoln achieved a Bronze Award in 2014 as part of the Athena SWAN Charter.

In addition, the women in science, engineering and technology group (WiSE@Lincoln) was set up at the University in 2012 to coordinate and deliver sustained support, guidance, training and inspiration for the Lincoln women in science, engineering and technology. The WiSE group is headed up by the Eleanor Glanville Centre, an interdisciplinary centre for inclusion, diversity and equality at the University of Lincoln.

Below are a selection of our female students / staff members – you can find out more about their projects by clicking their photographs.


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International Women’s Day ​​(March 8th) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.​ ​International Women’s Day​ (IWD) has occurred for well over a century, with the first IWD run by the Suffragettes in 1911.​ IWD belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. IWD is not country, group or organisation specific.

Join in the discussion on Twitter using #IWD2018

Touchscreen test reveals new findings on intelligence of birds


Birds such as parrots and crows have been using touchscreen technology as part of an international research study examining whether the ways in which animals respond to new things influences how eager they are to explore.
The new research, involving scientists from across Europe, looks at how a number of factors affect the speed and frequency with which the birds investigate new objects that they have never seen before.The study was carried out by researchers from the Messerli Research Institute (University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna) and the University of Vienna in Austria, the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany and University of Lincoln, UK.It has generally been assumed that neophobic species (species that do not like new things) have a tendency to explore less than those that do (referred to as neophilic). For example, kea parrots in New Zealand have been known to destroy cars because they are so interested in new things.The research results reveal that the neotic style of a bird (how neophobic or neophilic an animal is) has an impact on when they choose to explore new objects, but not on their level of exploration. Those who are more neophobic carry out the same amount of exploration, but simply make the approach much later. The results also show that juvenile animals explore more quickly than adults do.

Significantly, the scientists found that individual differences and characteristics seem to be much more important than species-level differences in determining how eager a bird is to explore. This suggests that neotic style is not, as is frequently assumed, a result of the challenges faced by an entire species, but instead appears to differ depending on the individual bird.

As part of the investigation, the parrots and crows were introduced to a touchscreen which revealed two different coloured shapes on a regular basis, and they were trained to understand that choosing one of the shapes (by pecking it) could result in a food reward. The researchers showed each bird 16 pairs of shapes, and throughout the task introduced a few novel stimuli that they had never seen before. The researchers measured how quickly they responded to the new shapes, and at which point in the test they chose to investigate them.

A video of Sven the Eclectus parrot working the touchscreen is available to view on YouTube.

Dr Anna Wilkinson, a specialist in animal cognition from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln, explained: “Rather than its species, we found that individual differences have a significant impact upon how quickly a bird begins to explore. This is likely to be due to a combination of the bird’s age, its individual position in the social hierarchy, and its own previous experiences.”

The birds that featured in the study were from nine different species of parrots and corvids – also known as the crow family. They were selected to represent different ecological backgrounds so that factors such as the likelihood of pressure from predators could also be taken into account. For example, species originating from islands such as Goffin’s cockatoos and vasa parrots are less likely to face pressure from predators than those such as ravens, jackdaws and African grey parrots, which are much more widely distributed.

As part of the study, researchers worked with Eclectus parrots from the Lincolnshire Wildlife Park to assess their reactions.

The first author of the study, Dr Mark O’Hara from the Messerli Research Institute and the University of Vienna, said: “Our findings allow for a more accurate interpretation of behaviour and the processes which control responses to changes in the environment.”

The full paper, The temporal dependence of exploration on noetic style in birds, is published in Scientific Reports and is available to read online.

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Lincoln paper is one of leading journal’s most read of 2016

A fascinating study by University of Lincoln researchers has been named as one of the most read articles in 2016 by the leading academic journal, Scientific Reports.

Scientific Reports is a high-impact, open access journal from the publishers of Nature. It publishes groundbreaking research from all areas of the natural and clinical sciences.

Fernanda Fadel, Patricia Driscoll, Dr Malgorzata Pilot, Dr Hannah Wright, Dr Helen Zulch and Professor Daniel Mills – all researchers from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln – published the findings of their study exploring the impulsivity of different dog breeds in Scientific Reports in March 2016. The paper went on to become one of the journal’s top 100 articles, out of more than 20,000 published in 2016.

DOGS Credit - Shona Jenkins and Peter Baumber

The paper, titled Differences in Trait Impulsivity Indicate Diversification of Dog Breeds into Working and Show Lines, found that Border Collies are on average more impulsive than Labrador Retrievers. In addition, when comparing working lines – groups within a breed that have been selected to perform a particular task for humans, such as herding sheep – Collies were found to be on average more impulsive than Labradors.

However, the research also found that there was no significant difference in levels of impulsivity between show lines of the two breeds. Show lines are bred from animals which take part in dog shows and competitions, for example. They therefore conclude that when appearance rather than behaviour becomes the primary focus for breeders (as in show lines), this may relax selection on behavioural traits and reduce average differences in impulsivity between breeds.

The researchers, who specialise in animal behaviour and evolutionary genetics, examined data on 1,161 pure bred Border Collies and Labrador Retrievers. They used the Dog Impulsivity Assessment Scale (DIAS) – a dog owner reported questionnaire composed of 18 questions – to analyse their temperaments.

Fernanda Fadel, PhD researcher and lead author on the study, explained: “Impulsivity can be described as the inability to delay reward gratification, and in dogs this may sometimes relate to problems such as aggressive behaviour. Historically, Border Collies and Labrador Retrievers have been selected for working purposes requiring different levels of impulse control – livestock herding and gundog work respectively. 

“Of course, it would be inappropriate to make predictions about an individual dog’s behaviour only based on its breed, but our findings are extremely interesting. They highlight the varying temperaments of different breeds and also point to the impact that breeding for work or breeding for show can have on the personalities of our pets. We also saw a large variation among individuals of the same breed.”

Further studies are now taking place to explore these differences and determine whether similar findings are also true for other breeds.

The paper is available to read in full online:

Laboratory doors opened to Diabetes UK

We recently opened our laboratory doors to Diabetes UK and their District Local Group supporters.

Our School’s Dr Michael Christie (pictured, right) is funded by the charity and his ongoing research focuses on trying to stop the rogue immune attack that happens in people with Type 1 diabetes, in order to prevent the condition from developing in the future.

He said: “Diabetes UK has supported my work for many years, and I was delighted to have the opportunity to open my doors and explain what we do first hand to those it affects most.”

The tour enabled our visitors to witness ground-breaking diabetes research taking place in the School of Life Sciences laboratories.

Dr Christie’s work is one of many studies that Diabetes UK is supporting all over the country, with more than £450,000 worth of that research happening right now in our School of Life Sciences. Each one of our individual projects is helping to transform the treatment and prevention of all forms of diabetes, ultimately leading us towards a cure.

Liz Aldridge from the Diabetes UK Lincoln and District Local Group attended the tour and said after her visit: “I returned home thinking that I should really devote the rest of my life to raising (and giving) money for research! I was so impressed by the dedication of the researchers. I found the day inspiring and am really grateful for the opportunity to see first-hand the amazing research into Type 1 diabetes that is happening here on our doorstep.”

Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Science, Dr Matthew Simmonds, was also present at the tour and explained his research into islet transplants, an important treatment option for some people with Type 1 diabetes. Dr Simmonds is part of Diabetes UK’s Innovator in Diabetes (IDia) programme; a course designed to support early career scientists to become the next leaders in diabetes research.

Approximately 10 per cent of people with diabetes have Type 1 and 90 per cent have Type 2. People with Type 1 diabetes cannot produce insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar levels. The exact causes of the condition are unknown, but it is not related to lifestyle factors and cannot currently be prevented. Type 1 diabetes usually affects children or young adults, starting suddenly and getting worse quickly. It is treated with daily insulin doses – taken by either injection or using an insulin pump.

Dr Emily Burns, Diabetes UK Research Communications Manager, said: “We’re indebted to our supporters for helping us fund the incredible work of scientists like Dr Christie, helping to improve the lives of people living with diabetes. We’re really pleased that we got the opportunity to say thank you to some of our supporters, who were able to see where our funding goes first-hand.

Our visitors witnessed ground-breaking lab research
Our visitors witnessed ground-breaking lab research


“By funding critical research like this, we’re bringing about life-changing steps in the care, treatment and prevention of diabetes. Ultimately, we want to reach a world where diabetes can do no harm.

Diabetes UK relies on public support to fund scientists like Dr Christie and the charity spends around £7 million every year on much-needed diabetes research. You can find out how to donate to this worthy cause online.

Beetles are equal partners in mating behaviour

New research conducted by Entomologists at the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences has discovered the mating habits of beetles.

The research concluded that beetles that copulate with the same mate as opposed to different partners will repeat the same behaviour. This debunks previous suggestions that one sex exerts control over the other in copulation.

Callosobruchus Maculatus (Commonly known as the Cowpea Seed Beetle)
Callosobruchus Maculatus (Commonly known as the Cowpea Seed Beetle)

Mating behaviour of Callosobruchus Maculatus beetles (pictured), more commonly known as seed beetles, was undertaken to determine if either sex controlled the duration of copulation.

During mating, the female will kick her mate to force him to disengage its spiny genitalia which punctures the female’s reproductive tract. The study found that when beetles repeatedly mated with the same partner, the amount of time it took for the female to begin kicking the male, and how long she spent kicking, was virtually the same.

However, when mated to different partners, the duration of both the time it took to begin kicking and how long the female kicked for varied considerably.

Dr Paul Eady from the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences led the study. He said: “Across the animal kingdom the duration of copulation varies enormously from a few seconds to several days, and it has traditionally been seen as a cooperative venture between males and females to facilitate the transfer of sperm.

“However, recent studies indicate that copulation might actually represent an uneasy alliance in which male and female interests are in conflict, which has led to a number of researchers examining which sex controls copulatory behaviour.

“Teasing apart, male and female influences over the duration of mating is difficult because although males may have more to gain, females are often in a position to exert more control.

“We used a very simple experimental protocol that examined the repeatability of male and female copulatory behaviour in the beetle, Callosobruchus Maculatus. When males mated to several females and when females mated to several males, the copulatory behaviour of individuals was inconsistent. This suggests both males and females have a degree of control over the duration of copulation.

“This was confirmed when male-female pairs were permitted to copulate several times in succession, and the behaviour was highly repeatable. This tells us that copulatory behaviour is a product of male-female interactions, rather than one sex exerting control over the other.”

The findings were published in the journal Royal Society Open Science on Wednesday 22nd February.