The Student ASM

Zombies, dwarves, insect guts, disease and pomegranates. These sound like a strange mix of topics, but were all covered by this year’s Student Annual Science Meeting (ASM).

But what is the Student ASM I hear you cry?  Every year each department pitches their best student – as chosen through poster presentations at the main JIC ASM – against the other departments to win the ultimate prize. The top prize is to give the only student talk at the JIC ASM in October alongside, postdocs, PIs (i.e our bosses) and guest speakers. At the Student ASM each chosen student gives a 15 minute talk to a student-only audience about their work and then the best speaker is voted for. The entire event was organised by the students, including chairing sessions, providing wine and cheese and live-tweeting of the entire event (we even came up with a hashtag – #SVCASM)

This year the speakers were (left to right in photo below):

  • Zigmunds Orlovskis (Cell and Developmental Biology)
  • Robert Ietswaart (Computational and Systems Biology)
  • Rebecca Edwards (Institute for Food Research)
  • Rachel Goddard (Crop Genetics)
  • Artemis Giannakopoulou (The Sainsbury Laboratory)
  • Eleftheria Trampari (Molecular Microbiology)
  • Thomas Vincent (Metabolic Biology)
  • Katarzyna Ignasiak (Biological Chemistry)


The talks covered a huge range of topics, which really highlighted the variety of work going on at JIC, as well as neighbouring institutes (The Sainsbury Laboratory and the Institute of Food Research). Topics ranged from the possible effects of polyphenols (chemicals found in pomegranates and apples) on cardiovascular disease in humans to the signals involved in the inner workings of bacterial cells and the effects of aphids on plant cells. We heard about plant disease resistance, both through traditional breeding with dwarf varieties of barley, and engineered resistance to potato late blight (the causal agent of the Irish potato famine) as well as modelling of flowering time control and gene regulation and the use of insect gut bacteria to look for novel antibiotics from plants.

The quality of all of the talks was very high but a winner was chosen:

This year’s winner was Zigmunds Orlovskis from Cell and Developmental Biology, with the talk entitled: “Phytoplasma effector protein SAP54: modulator of plant development and plant-insect interactions”. His talk focussed on the role of a tiny bacterium (Phytoplasma) which lives inside plant cells and causes the plant to turn into a ‘zombie’. The plant doesn’t eat brains but it is manipulated by the Phytoplasma to the plants detriment, in effect becoming the ‘puppet’ of the Phytoplasma. In this case one of the effects is that the plant converts its flowers into leaf structures which means it cannot reproduce and is sterile. Zigmunds talk concentrated on one of the possible ‘strings’ used by the Phytoplasma to manipulate the plant, a protein called SAP54, and how it might work.

In second place was Katarzyna Ignasiak from Biological Chemistry with her talk entitled “Exploiting the insect gut to discover novel plant-derived antibiotics”.

And in 3rd place was Artemis Giannakopoulou from The Sainsbury Laboratory with her talk entitled “Towards Synthetic Disease Resistance Genes”.

Congratulations to Zigmunds, we are looking forward to his talk about zombie plants at the JIC TSL ASM in October! Congratulations too to all of the other speakers, and a huge thank you to all the students who attended (hopefully they didn’t just come for the free snacks). Thanks must also go to the members of the Student Voice Committee who helped make sure the event went off without a hitch!

So know you know how zombies, dwarves, insect guts, disease and pomegranates can fit into one afternoon of scientific talks. If you would like to find out more about the science that is going on here go to:

JIC:     or



By Annis Richardson, a 3rd year PhD student in the lab of Rico Coen

(All photographs courtesy of Izzy Webb)


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