Department of Life Sciences
Head of Department: Dr. Hilary MacQueen
The Department is made up of 36 academics who perform research across the full range of the biological sciences. In addition, there are 11 post-doctoral researchers, 20 full-time research students and, during 2006/7, 6 visiting researchers working in our laboratories. Members of the Department hold, and have held, a variety of research grants from, amongst others, the BBSRC, NERC, EU Framework 6, DEFRA, Wellcome Trust, Leverhulme Trust, Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Royal Society, NAAR/Autism Speaks and NIMH. At the postgraduate level, the department runs a full PhD research degree programme with students supported by the BBSRC, NERC, MRC (Medical Research Council), RSPB charities (such as the Multiple Sclerosis Society) and from The Open University. Our industrial research partners include, Regen Therapeutics and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).
Our Department is divided into two main research areas centred on Biomedical Sciences and Biodiversity. Within Biomedical Science, research groups are working within the neurosciences (including neuropathology and neuroimmunology), cellular immunology, the biology of ageing, gene expression and cognitive psychology. Amongst the key research priority areas in the Department are autism, ageing and neurodegeneration, immunology of the nervous system, cellular and molecular neurobiology, cognitive science and neurosience. Our research teams comprise biologists, chemists, environmental scientists, physicists and psychologists who contribute to a vibrant and interdisciplinary research community. Our laboratory facilities have recently been substantially expanded and include molecular genetics laboratories, a DNA-sequencing laboratory, dark rooms, tissue culture/time-lapse suites, electron microscopes, confocal microscope suite, histology and morphometric laboratories and a radiation suite which houses a cell harvester, beta scintillation and gamma counters.
Most of our research concerns key strategic areas identified by UK research councils. Notably, we have been very successful in obtaining funding from the highly competitive European Framework 6 initiative (for a multicentre neuroscientific project entitled 'Promemoria'), from BBSRC strategic funding initiatives into Ageing (SAGE, ERA), neural function (NEURONE) and BIOIMAGING. We have also increased our funding from research charities such as Autism Speaks (USA), the Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Wellcome Trust and a have developed a number of new links with Industry (GlaxoSmithKline, Regen, Bristol-Myers-Squibb). Much of our research is based on very successful collaborations with other universities and institutes and with industry, both nationally and internationally. Through our regional centre in Cambridge, we maintain close links with the Cambridge Genetics Knowledge Park and the i10 network.
The Department offers a range of specialist skills and expertise across the life sciences area of research, described in more detail below. We are keen to involve external partners in our research through their involvement in collaborative research projects, sponsored PhD studentships and contract research projects.
Our Laboratory Facilities
The Department of Life Sciences houses high quality specialist research laboratories well equipped with standard analytical and preparative equipment for biochemistry, microbiology, molecular biology, Drosophila culture, neurophysiology, histology, stereology/morphometry, polarising microscopy, ultrasound and behaviour recording. Our laboratories include fully equipped suites for molecular biology, tissue culture, cell culture and electrophysiology, molecular ecology and ecohydrology. A new suite of laboratories for biomedical research, funded by £2 million SRIF investment was recently opened by Professor Colin Blakemore in September 2006.
Within Biomedical Science, we offer excellent microscopy facilities that include EM, UV, fluorescence, timelapse, confocal and a wide range of light-microscopes. We also have a suite of image analysis microscopes using specialist software dedicated to densitometry and 2D-morphometric analyses, as well as a Neurolucida (MicroBrightField, USA) computer assisted microscope system for the reconstruction and rotation of neurons and neural structures.
A self-contained electron microscopy suite houses two transmission electron microscopes (JOEL 100kV and 200kV) and one scanning electron microscope. These are equipped with both image acquisition and analytical equipment and software. This suite includes a large preparation facility for processing biological material, including cryopreparation and immunocytochemistry. In August 2007, a new 120kV JEM1400 transmission electron microscope with digital image acquisition was installed, having been purchased on the SRIF3 initiative. A separate specialist laboratory suite contains a Leica NT laser scanning confocal microscope with networked Silicon Graphics work station and image processing package that allows 3-D reconstruction and deconvolution.
We have excellent facilities for standard optical microscopy; fluorescence microscopes with image analysis packages (both on-line and off-line) and an inverted fluorescence microscope with time-lapse video image acquisition. Our microscopy facilities are supported by a very well equipped and fully-serviced histology laboratory, with paraffin wax processing, section staining, vacuum embedding and cryostat sectioning. In addition, we have specialist microscopes equipped for micro-injection of cultured cells, injection of Drosophila embryos and for yeast tetrad microdissection.
The Department has six separate cell and tissue culture facilities, each of which is dedicated to work with primary or established animal or human cells or tissues, including organotypic slice culture. Cell biology work is supported by both a fluorescent activated cell analyser, a time-lapse video imaging system, cell micro-injection system and a liquid nitrogen storage facility. The new biomedicine laboratory suite, opening in 2005, includes culture facilities to work at containment level 3. A specialist electrophysiology laboratory uses both intracellular and extracellular recording techniques to record and manipulate neuronal tissue. The laboratory uses the latest in computer aided acquisition and analysis of synaptic activity.