Young Scientists Awards 2017

01 November 2017 - By: Alex Evans and Caroline Wood

Young Scientists Awards 2017

SEB-Gothenburg-2017-Animal-Cell YSAS
Anna Stockl, Christine Raines, Rasmus Ern and Christian Damsgaard at SEB Gothenburg 2017

By Alex Evans and Caroline Wood

Each year at the SEB Annual Meeting, young scientists submit their abstract to the Young Scientist Award Session and compete for the award of ‘best research presentation’. Here is the research of our 2017 winners.

Seeing is believing

Animals use their eyes to gather visual information about the world, but it’s the brain that is crucial to interpreting these signals. This year’s winner of the Animal Section Young Scientist Award, Dr Anna Stöckl (Aalto University, Finland), presented her fascinating PhD work on the visual processing mechanisms in hawkmoths. 

Hawkmoths have special neural adaptations that allow them to see well in dim light. “These moths neutrally pool visual information in space and time to improve their visual sensitivity beyond the capacities of their eyes, but it was previously unclear which neurons are responsible for this processing,” said Anna. During a talk filled with impressive images and videos, Anna explained how she identified the neurons responsible as lamina monopolar cells. “This not only answers a decades old question in insect visual processing, it can also allow us to study these mechanisms in more detail and compare them to strategies used in vertebrate visual systems and artificial visual systems,” said Anna.

Of the Young Scientist Award Session, Anna commented: “It was fantastic to feel my work being acknowledged. It gave me a real boost to believe in what I am doing.” She especially enjoyed the chance to communicate her work with a range of researchers outside of her usual audience. “It is a great exercise in presenting your work for non-specialists and a wonderful opportunity to discuss with researchers you don’t often get to meet.” Finally, Anna offered some advice for future YSAS applications: “Don’t hesitate to apply as the process in itself is a very rewarding learning experience, regardless of the outcome of the competition!”

Dynamic Changes

SEB-Gothenburg-2017-Plant-Cell YSAS
Charlotte Hurst, Christine Raines, Sébastjen Schoenaers and Marjorie Lundgren at SEB Gothenburg 2017

“S-acylation: What the FLS2 is going on?!” That’s the question Charlotte Hurst (University of Dundee, United Kingdom) aims to answer. S-acylation, the addition of long chain fatty acids to cysteine residues, is the only known reversible lipid modification of proteins in plants. Over 1000 proteins in plants can be S-acylated and disrupting S-acylation causes grossly abnormal phenotypes in Arabidopsis. Charlotte’s work focusses on S-acylation of FLS2, a receptorlike kinase that activates plant defences in response to the bacterial flagellin protein. But investigating when and how FLS2 is S-acylated proved far from easy, and in the end Charlotte had to completely overhaul many traditional protocols that turned out to be unsuitable for S-acylated proteins. 

Her persistence paid off however, and she has now demonstrated that S-acylation of FLS2 is a dynamic process and speculates that S-acylation helps target activated FLS2 for degradation, thus preventing hyperactivation of defence responses. “I was absolutely delighted to have been selected for the SEB Young Scientist Award as I knew  the standards would be very high” Charlotte said. “I was very nervous beforehand as it was probably the largest audience I have ever presented to, but everyone was really encouraging and I actually enjoyed it once the fear had died down.” Given the troubleshooting and difficulties she has had to overcome, winning the award has been a real encouragement for Charlotte’s ambitions to continue in research after completing her PhD. “Winning this award has reminded me how much I enjoy what I do and it’s really great to get recognition for all the hard work I’ve done” she said.



Category: Awards

Alex Evans and 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.

Alex Evans is a PhD student at the University of Leeds investigating the energetics of bird flight. In his spare time, Alex enjoys writing about the natural world, contributing to the Bird Brained Science blog and exploring other avenues of science communication.