Young Scientist Award Session (YSAS)

31 October 2016 - By: Caroline Wood & Jonathan Smith

Young Scientist Award Session (YSAS)

Lauren Nadler
Joint winner of the Animal-Cell YSAS award, Miss Lauren Nadler

By Jonathan Smith & Caroline Wood

Each year, SEB invites its early career delegates to submit their abstract to the YSAS session during the SEB Meeting, to compete for the award of “Best research presentation”. Our science writers, Caroline Wood and Jonathan Smith, have summarised the winners’ research below

Lost in Transpiration

Given that up to 95% of the water used to irrigate crops is lost in transpiration, understanding how stomata (tiny pores on the underside of plant leaves) are regulated could help to develop more crops that are water-use efficient. Jordan Brown (University of Sheffield) has been investigating how light and carbon dioxide interact to regulate stomatal density and aperture. So far, she has identified a key light receptor which integrates signals relating to carbon dioxide levels. “In the long term, I hope to understand how plants regulate core responses to a range of environmental cues,” said Jordan. “This will enable us to produce crop lines that grow optimally in our increasingly extreme world”. Despite the SEB Brighton meeting being the largest audience to which she had ever presented, Jordan overcame her nerves to win the Young Scientist’s Award and would recommend the experience.
Jordan Brown
Winner of the Plant-Cell YSAS award , Miss Jordan Brown

“The application was a great means to reflect on my work to make it as communicable as possible, and the audience’s questions have encouraged me to think about new areas of research,” she said.  “It was a fantastic experience for me and I would highly encourage those eligible to apply next year”. 

Safety in numbers 

Humans are not alone in their need to chill out with friends; some shoaling fish species also are less stressed when they are together. Young Scientist Award Winner Miss Lauren Nadler (James Cook University, Australia) studies this ‘calming effect’ of shoaling on individual fishes, saying: “Many species practice safety in numbers in the animal kingdom, as having “many eyes” helps them detect looming predators. Therefore, gregarious fishes like the blue-green puller (Chromis viridis) might feel safer and less stressed when in a shoal.” Using a novel respirometry method to measure metabolic rates – commonly used as an indicator of stress – Lauren found that individuals exposed to cues of shoal-mates had lower metabolic rates, and hence stress, than individuals tested by themselves. “This supports the idea of a calming effect of shoaling,” said Lauren. Another part of Lauren’s prize-winning research was finding that this calming shoal effect is maintained even under projected climate change conditions. “Atmospheric and ocean levels of carbon dioxide are on the rise largely due to human activities,” explained Lauren. “As the calming effect of shoaling will likely be maintained into the future, group living may become even more important, possibly as a behavioural mechanism to counteract stress and increasing energy needs.” 

The acid test

Greenhouse gases are certainly nothing to be sniffed at. Increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are disrupting ecosystems around the world and the oceans are no exception. “The oceans do us a big favour by absorbing 20 per cent of the carbon dioxide humans are producing,” explained Dr Cosima Porteus (University of Exeter, UK). “However, oceans are now growing dangerously more acidic as a result of this absorption.”
Dr Cosima Porteus
 Joint winner of the Animal-Cell YSAS winner, Dr Cosima Porteus 

To help predict the ecological impact of ocean acidification, Cosima’s research investigates the effects of increased carbon dioxide on the olfactory system in European sea bass – a vital organism for Europe’s fishing industry. “My experiments reveal that the fish’s olfactory sensory neurons are less sensitive under high carbon dioxide conditions,” said Cosima. “This is such a strong effect that sea bass would need to be a staggering 60 per cent closer to the source to detect the same smell under normal conditions.” Cosima has also identified the potential genes behind these effects, including ion channels and olfactory receptors. “This work has big implications for European sea bass and their ability to survive ocean acidification,” she concluded. “It was an honour being able to present my work at the SEB annual meeting this year.”

See here for a full list of SEB Brighton 2016 winner.

Category: Awards

Jonathan Smith & Caroline Wood

Jonathan Smith served as the SEB’s press intern for the annual meeting in summer 2016, and has since contributed articles for the SEB’s bulletin. After obtaining an undergraduate degree in Neuroscience from the University of Bristol, he is currently studying for a PhD in locust neurobiology in the University of Leicester and runs an active Twitter account communicating his work.


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.