Young Scientist Award 2015

30 September 2015 - By: Caroline Wood

Young Scientist Award 2015


Z_optIn txt small
YSAS Plant Section winner Zigmunds Orlovskis of the John Innes Centre (UK)

By Caroline Wood

Congratulations to this year’s winners of the Young Scientists Award Session (YSAS): Zigmunds Orlovskis (John Innes Centre, UK) for the Plant Section and Dominique Roche (University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland) for the Animal Section.

Presenting his findings in Prague was a valuable experience for Zigmunds Orlovskis: “The SEB meeting is a great platform to exchange ideas with scientists from different backgrounds and get feedback on your research” he said. “I enjoyed the huge diversity of topics, which allows you to think about your own research from a range of perspectives, find out about advances in technology and come up with novel research questions”.

Zigmunds’ PhD project focuses on understanding the biological role of pathogen effector proteins in plant development and plant-insect interactions. Specifically, he has been investigating how proteins produced by phytoplasmas affect host development and whether this promotes dispersal of the parasites. “Phytoplasmas are insect-vectored plant pathogens, which can induce dramatic changes in the host, including the generation of leaf-like flowers (phyllody)” he said. It had been hypothesised that these leaf-like flowers play a role in attracting leafhoppers which then transmit the bacteria to new plants but, surprisingly, Zigmunds found that this was not the case. “Leafhoppers were still attracted to the plants even when the leaf-like flowers were removed, leaving me to believe that phytoplasmas attract insects to their host plant through modulating host defence pathways, rather than through altered morphology”, he explained.

For the time being, Zigmunds is happy to continue focusing on plant parasites. “Numerous parasites alter host development and behaviour to benefit their dispersal and survival”, he said. “I would like my future research to contribute to our understanding of the molecular mechanisms underpinning host-parasite interactions and to enhance our knowledge about the evolution of these complex systems”.
Underwater_In txt
YSAS Animal Section winner Dominique Roche

Our Animal Section YSAS winner, Dominique Roche was equally pleased with his award: “To me, winning any award at an SEB meeting is prestigious because much of the best science that I read about is done by SEB members”, said Dominique. “In this sense, being awarded the YSAS award felt like a recognition that my work met the high quality standards that SEB researchers strive for”.

Dominique’s research focuses on the link between behaviour and aerobic metabolism and whether this varies across environmental conditions. During the course of his studies on the charismatic Olive Flounder Fish (Paralichthys olivaceus), he was intrigued to discover that this species exhibits two distinct behavioural types – that of “shy” or “bold” fish. Even more curiously, these also show differences at the metabolic level, as Dominique explained: “We found that shy individuals have a lower aerobic scope than bold individuals and this was consistent across different environments”. This may explain why these fish adopt different escape strategies when startled. “Shy individuals adopt a “freeze-hide” response (akin to breath holding), he explained, “whereas bold individuals adopt a “fight-flight” response and significantly increase their oxygen consumption rate."

These results produced a highly engaging presentation and, although the standard of the session was high, Dominique’s work stood out for addressing the large gaps in our understanding of how behaviour and physiology interact. Dominique shows no sign of slowing down, however, with the Annual Meeting giving him plenty of new ideas: “Several people I spoke to after my talk suggested looking at how the endocrine system might interact with metabolism to influence behaviour and I am also interested in looking for genetic differences among behavioural types”.

Look for details about the YSAS competition for next year’s SEB meeting in Brighton. Details appear on our website alongside our instructions for submitting abstracts.


Category: Awards
Caroline Wood-Profile_opt (1)

Caroline Wood

Caroline Wood was the SEB’s 2014 science communication intern. Since then, Caroline has been a regular contributor the SEB, reporting on events and writing insightful features for our members.
Caroline has an undergraduate degree from Durham University in Cell Biology and is currently a PHD student at Sheffield University studying parasitic Striga weeds that infect food crops. You can read her blog here.