The Annual Margaret Savigear Lectures

Monday 27th March 2017, 1pm-6pm

Alfred Denny Building, Lecture Theatre 1 and Conference Room

Role models are important for encouraging people to meet their full potential. Having a diversity of role models allows everyone to see that their own and other people's talent is unlimited. In progressing careers, mentors are also critical; this includes those individuals who encourage you to tap into your talent and guide your career. The Annual Margaret Savigear Lectures acknowledge the importance of role models to the next generation of scientists by explicitly increasing the visibility of women biologists and celebrates the importance of mentors.

The 2017 programme

All venues are next to one another in the Alfred Denny Building.

1-1.15pm: Introductions by Mike Siva-Jothy (Head of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield)

1.15-2.15pm: Kathryn Elmer (University of Glasgow) Parallel Evolution and its Alternatives

2.15-2.45pm: Refreshments

2.45-3.45pm: Sarah Gurr (University of Exeter) The Global Movement of Plant Pests and Pathogens: Implications for Food Security

3.45-6pm: Refreshments and informal discussions with ECRs

About Margaret Savigear

Margaret Savigear received her BSc from what was then the Department of Zoology in 1939, and was awarded an MSc in 1949. Her pursuit of a postgraduate degree was unusual at the time and supported by the then Head of Department, Leonard ES Eastham.

In recognition of Professor Eastham's inspiration and mentoring, Mrs Savigear donated to the department to establish the Leonard Eastham prize for final year undergraduates to undertake a Zoology research project.

About the speakers

Dr Kathryn Elmer

University of Glasgow

Kathryn Elmer

Kathryn Elmer is a Senior Lecturer in the Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health & Comparative Medicine at the University of Glasgow. Kathryn’s main research interests are in understanding the role of natural selection and the environment in the diversification of species. She uses comparative genetic, genomic and ecological approaches in replicate geographic contexts to study speciation in action, from population divergence through to behavioural and genetic isolation. Kathryn was awarded her PhD at Queen's University (Kingston, Canada) in 2006 followed by Alexander von Humboldt and NSERC postdoctoral fellowships in Konstanz, Germany. Kathryn remained at Konstanz as an Assistant professor from 2011-2012 before moving to the University of Glasgow in 2012 as a Lecturer (and since 2016, Senior Lecturer).

Abstract: Parallel Evolution and Its Alternatives

The rapid evolution of biodiversity in parallel, or similar, ways is an informative and fascinating natural laboratory for adaptation and speciation research. By comparing across spatial and phylogenetic scales, this context can help to disentangle fundamental underlying processes from the noise inherent in natural populations. My research focuses on two main questions: Are parallel phenotypes associated with parallelisms at the genomic level? What does parallel evolution, and its alternatives, tell us about constraint and potential across evolutionary lineages? To approach these questions, I study phenotypes and genomes in an environmental context, using a range of new 'omics tools available for non-model organisms. In this lecture, I will discuss some of our recent research of parallel evolution in rapidly diversifying species complexes, especially freshwater fishes in postglacial lakes. Findings suggest a complex interplay of demographic history, ecological parallelisms, and population-specific molecular patterns in the diversification into parallel ecotypes. The long-term aim of this work is to identify environmental and genomic facilitators of rapid adaptive diversification.

Professor Sarah Gurr

University of Exeter

Sarah Gurr

Sarah Gurr is a Chair in Food Security in the Department of Biosciences at the University of Exeter in association with the BBSRC and Rothamsted Research. Sarah’s main recent interests are in crop diseases (notably of rice and wheat), with particular emphasis on fungal infestations and their global movement and control, as well as ash die-back disease. Before moving to Exeter, Sarah held a Leverhulme Trust Royal Society Senior Research Fellowship and a NESTA Fellowship at Oxford (Department of Plant Sciences, Fellow of Somerville College), where she spent 20 years as Lecturer, Reader and then Professor. Prior to Oxford, Sarah held a Royal Society URF at Leeds University.

Abstract: The Global Movement of Plant Pests and Pathogens: Implications for Food Security

Over the past centuries, crop diseases have led to the starvation of the people, the ruination of economies and the downfall of governments. Of the various challenges, the threat to plants of fungal infection outstrips that posed by bacterial and viral diseases combined. Indeed, fungal diseases have been increasing in severity and scale since the mid 20th Century and now pose a serious threat to global food security and ecosystem health.

We face a future blighted by known adversaries, by new variants of old foes and by new diseases. Modern agricultural intensification practices have heightened the challenge - the planting of vast swathes of genetically uniform crops, guarded by one or two inbred resistance genes, and use of single target site antifungals has hastened emergence of new virulent and fungicide-resistant strains. Climate change compounds the saga as we see altered disease demographics - pathogens are on the move poleward in a warming world.

This presentation will highlight some current notable and persistent fungal diseases. It will consider the evolutionary drivers underpinning emergence of new diseases and allude to the accelerators of spread. I will set these points in the context of our recent disease modelling, which shows the global distributions of crop pathogens and their predicted movement and will discuss the concept of crop disease saturation. I shall conclude with some thoughts on future threats and challenges, on fungal disease mitigation (and present of some of our work in this area) and of ways of enhancing global food security.