After completing my undergrad in Biological Sciences at the University of Leicester, focusing on ecology and evolution, I then remained in Leicester to complete a masters in Molecular Genetics, graduating in 2019. During this time I became more and more interested in evolution, especially with the evolution and development of insects, and fascinated especially by social insects. My BSc dissertation was on the effect of early life stress on behaviour and the expression of serotonergic signalling related genes using the zebrafish as a model; while my MSc dissertation was probing the microbiome of an ant, Lasius flavus, for bacteria with the potential to produce novel antibiotics. My work now allows me to combine some of the ecology and evolution heavy work of my undergrad with the technical molecular skills I learned in my MSc.
My work, in the lab of Dr Elizabeth Duncan, focuses on the relationship between DNA methylation, and development and polyphenism in insects, focusing on aphids, primarily the pea aphid. Polyphenisms are extreme cases of behavioural plasticity, whereby from a single genome, various phenotypes can be produced in response to differing environmental factors – in the case of polyphenisms, individuals often take on extremely different forms. In aphids, two polyphenisms exist, the first encompasses winged and unwinged aphids, while the second, the one my work focuses on, encompasses asexually reproducing (the ‘usual’ state) and sexually reproducing aphids, the production of which depends on the changes in conditions associated with the changing of seasons.