Skip navigation
1 2 3 4 ... 22 Previous Next

Science News

330 Posts

Prof. Mel Greaves FRS, Institute of Cancer Research


Friday 5 December 12 noon,  Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)


All cancers share the common feature of being clonal expansions of mutant cells that, over years or decades, disseminate within and between tissues, hijacking essential normal functions. But cancers differ widely in their tissue of origin, underlying mutational spectra, time frame of progression, pathological impact and clinical course. The systematics or classification of cancer subtypes therefore poses a considerable challenge with biologists, histopathologists and oncologists applying differing criteria.


Over recent years, a new conceptual framework has emerged that makes biological sense of all the diversity. This views cancer as a process of somatic cell evolution driven by mutational diversification and natural selection or adaptation within the specialised ecosystem habitats of the body. The implications of this new vision for diagnosis, prognostication and control of disease are very substantial.


More information on attending seminars at


What are the benefits of natural history museums working with local record centres?


Thursday 4 December 1430-1600 Flett Theatre, NHM.


Steve Hewitt, Curator of Natural Sciences, Tullie House Museum and Gallery

Teresa Frost, Manager Cumbria Biodiversity Data Centre


The relationship between natural history museums and local records centres was once strong, complementing and supporting each other. The pooling of historical museum collections with contemporary data provided a valuable perspective on the country’s changing biodiversity. But in recent decades this important link has diminished.


Join this session to hear about the relationship between Tullie House Museum, Carlisle Natural History Society and the Cumbria Biodiversity Data Centre (CBDC). Together they support each other to create a momentum for biodiversity study. As well as the management and dissemination of collections data through CBDC, the museum gains from relationships with external organisations engaging with the centre. What can we at the Natural History Museum learn from these and other benefits of a now rare arrangement?


Open to all.  The seminar is open to all Museum staff.  We welcome colleagues from other institutions.


If you would like to attend please email:


Climate Confusion: Lessons and Pitfalls in the study of Climates Past


Professor John Lowe – Royal Holloway, University of London


Earth Sciences Seminar Room, (Basement, WEB 05, Mineralogy Seminar Room)


9th December - 4.00 pm


Accurate reconstruction of the timing and pattern of past climate variations is pivotal to a wide range of scientific studies.  Climate modellers may use the results to test the functioning and/or predictive capabilities of numerical climate simulations.  Earth scientists use them to assess the role of climate forcing on a range of earth surface processes, operating over very different timescales. Archaeologists have long considered the possible influence of climate on human evolution and dispersal.  Part of the remit of environmental science is to understand how climatic factors regulate processes of major societal significance, such as groundwater recharge, aridification and flood recurrence. 


These various studies all depend upon the availability of reliable climatic histories, and an understanding of how the global climate system works.  However, recent discoveries are increasingly pointing to a serious and pervasive problem in this regard, especially with regard to how we measure the global environmental response to abrupt climatic events (those that take place in less than one hundred years). 


In this talk I will endeavour to address, and to stimulate debate about, three things: (a) the nature of the problem, by referring to recent advances in our understanding of the history of global climate variability during the late Quaternary (the last c.150,000 years or so); (b) the promise that new approaches in geological dating offer for delivering more precise chronologies of past climatic variation;  and (c) the challenges that lie ahead, and that need to be met, before the stamp of climate change on the geo-archaeological record can be appraised with more assurance.


More information on attending seminars at


Life Science Seminar: The unique development of the fox tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis: a hopeful, but terrible monster


Uriel Koziol, Seccion Bioquimica y Biologia, Universidad de la Republica, Iguá, Uruguay & University of Würzburg, Germany


Wednesday 26 November 11:00,  Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)



The larva of the fox tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis causes a zoonotic disease called polycystic hydatidosis that is difficult to treat and almost impossible to cure. The reason why it is so dangerous is directly related to its unique morphology and development, that unlike most tapeworms, involves proliferative, tumour-like growth within the tissues of the host as well as asexual multiplication. In this talk, I will describe the unique development of E. multilocularis and our current efforts to elucidate its genetic underpinnings and evolutionary origins.




More information on attending seminars at


Rebecca Upson, UK Overseas Territories team, The Herbarium, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew


Friday 28 November 11:00  Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)


The Falkland Islands are predicted to experience a 3°C temperature rise in mean annual temperature over the coming century, six times the rate of warming over the last 100 years.

NaturalHistoryMuseum_PictureLibrary_055327_IA.jpgOur study is the first to investigate the likely vulnerability of a suite of range-restricted species whose distributions are associated with broad climatic trends across the archipelago. We had a particular focus on assessing the effectiveness of the current protected areas network and identifying refugia sites for those species at risk.


More information on attending seminars at


Dr Sarah Crowther, University of Manchester


Tuesday 18th November 1600h


Earth Sciences Seminar Room  (Basement, WEB 05)



The I-Xe chronometer provides a high resolution means of studying events that occurred during the formation of the Solar System and the subsequent reprocessing of material within the first ~150 Ma of Solar System history. Barwell seems to have sampled igneous clasts that formed early in the Solar System's history, and preserved the I-Xe system from this time. These clasts are igneous in nature, rather than chondritic. If they are relics from a previous generation of melted, differentiated planetesimals, it would support data that suggest there was an earlier generation of planetesimals that pre-date the formation of the chondrite parent bodies. Barwell also allows us the opportunity to investigate whether chondrules from this early period of Solar System history are also present.



In this talk Sarah Crowther will discuss the background to this study, the I-Xe chronometer, the techniques and mass spectrometer used at The University of Manchester to determine I-Xe ages, and  recent analyses of Barwell.


More information on attending seminars at


Menno Schilthuizen, Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden, the Netherlands


Wednesday 19 November 11:00


Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)



As all taxonomists know, in many animal groups, the genitalia are the organs that differ most between species. Although this clearly means that genital evolution must be particularly rapid, the causes for their evolutionary diversification have only recently begun to be understood. I will show examples of various processes that may or may not drive male and female (and hermaphrodite) genital evolution, such as the lock-and-key hypothesis, cryptic female choice, sperm competition, and sexually antagonistic coevolution. A popular account of this field of research can be found in my recent book Nature's Nether Regions (Penguin, 2014).


More information on attending seminars at


Pavel Pecháček & David Stella,  Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic


Friday 21 November 11:00


Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)



brimstone NaturalHistoryMuseum_PictureLibrary_001964_IA.jpg


The males of the Brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni) have ultraviolet patterns on the dorsal surfaces of their wings. Using geometric morphometrics, we have analysed correlations between environmental variables (climate, productivity) and shape variability of the ultraviolet pattern and the forewing in specimens of Palaearctic butterflies. Using principal component analysis (PCA) precipitation, temperature, latitude correlated with shape variation of the ultraviolet patterns across the Palaearctic region. We observed a systematic increase in the relative area of ultraviolet colouration with increasing temperature and precipitation and decreasing latitude. We conclude that the variation in shape of ultraviolet patterns on the forewings of male Brimstone butterflies is correlated with large-scale environmental factors.



More information on attending seminars at


Taxonomy and Phylogeny of the beetle family Prionoceridae (Coleoptera: Cleroidea) in the “Indo-Burma hotspot”


Michael Geiser, Department of Life Sciences, NHM

Wednesday 12 November 11:00

Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)

Eight years of study on one of the most neglected and poorly-known beetle families revealed a number of taxonomic novelties and, for the first time, shed some light on this group’s ecology and distribution. In the framework of a PhD thesis, the fauna of the Indochinese subregion (largely congruent with the more recently proposed “Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot”) was revised. Two new genera and a 23 new species were described, several more are awaiting description. A molecular phylogeny of the family supported the new genera and revealed a number of interesting patterns in biogeography and life-history of these poorly-known beetles.


More information on attending seminars at


Earth Sciences Seminar Room (Basement, WEB 05, the previous Mineralogy Seminar Room)


Wednesday 29th October  4.00 pm


Dr. Laurence A.J. Garvie, Center for Meteorite Studies, Tempe AZ 85287-6004 (


In 1806 a black, friable meteorite fell near the town of Alais in France. Subsequent chemical analysis published in the same year by Thenard showed that the stone contained 2.5 parts carbon and 18.5 parts water. In 1834, Berzelius showed that the stone contained clays and a complex suite of organic materials that were extracted with water. This study heralded the field of extraterrestrial organic chemistry.


The Alais stone belongs to a class of meteorites called carbonaceous chondrites (CC). These chondrites are primitive meteorites composed of various proportions of chondrules and refractory materials set in a fine-grained matrix. Their study provides important information on early Solar System processes. In addition, the matrix of these meteorites harbors a suite of presolar materials, some of which are carbonaceous.


Today, more than 40,000 organic compounds have been recognized in the CC meteorites, including more than 100 amino acids. Together with these soluble compounds, some CC meteorites contain an abundant carbonaceous component that is insoluble in water, solvents, and acids called the insoluble organic material (IOM). The IOM is chemically and structurally diverse and contains two easily recognizable and curious components – carbonaceous nanoglobules (also called organized elements) and nanodiamonds. I will explore the significance of these components to early Solar System studies as well as address the frequent past and present claims of indigenous microfossils in the carbonaceous chondrite meteorites.




More information on attending seminars at


Arthropod specimens and genome skimming: Extracting a large panel of diet, symbiotic and phylogenomic information


Benjamin Linard, Department of Life Sciences, NHM


Wednesday 15 October 1100


Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)



Genome skimming (GS) is the shallow sequencing of the DNA extracted from pooled specimens. This approach was successfully tested on plants to extract simultaneously chloroplast / mitochondria / rRNAs and nuclear markers for phylogenomics and ecological studies. We previously produced insect specimen pools, initially to generate hundreds of complete mitochondria but also skimming the nuclear genomes of the specimens and their gut content. We will describe here the promising potential of GS when applied to arthropods.


In particular, we will show: (1) how trophic interaction between aphid preys, ladybirds (Coccinellini specimens) and associated symbiont can be skimmed from gut contents; (2) why a large panel of DNA markers (mitochondria, coding regions, repeats) are systematically leachable from insect pools through GS; (3) why applying GS to field collected material could extend our knowledge of insect genome evolution and uncover several ecological messages.


ladybird small.jpg


More information on attending seminars at


Europe’s stored biodiversity: access and preservation


Thursday 25 September  14.30–16.00 Flett Events Theatre

Join Dr Rob Huxley from the Natural History Museum and other key speakers for an overview of Europe-wide projects aimed to ensure the long-term preservation and accessibility of natural history collections.

For more than 10 years, the Natural History Museum has been an active participant and leader in a number of Europe-wide, collections-related projects. These projects have delivered tools, procedures and training to raise standards in collections management and preservation.

This seminar will focus on SYNTHESYS, a series of EU-funded consortium projects providing support for research access to collections. Its partners are members of the Consortium of European Taxonomic Facilities (CETAF), an umbrella organisation linking more than 30 institutions with a strong commitment to collections standards and access. A CETAF working group, the Collections Policy Board (CPB) has, for example, delivered common principles for collections loans and visitor access, and hosted workshops on digitisation.

CPB and SYNTHESYS have also identified a need for standardised approaches to collections training and staff development. This has been picked up through EuColComp, a two-year Leonardo da Vinci Programme-funded project to develop a set of universal multi-language competencies and a training curriculum for collections staff.


Who should attend

The seminar is open to all museum professionals. We welcome colleagues from other institutions.

There is no booking fee. If you would like to attend please email:

Tea and coffee will be available after the talk.


Natural History Museum staff do not need to book.


What it will include


  • overview of SYNTHESYS, EuColComp
  • presentation of practical case studies
  • discussion of future developments and opportunities

Palaeoenvironmental analysis of a Mesolithic-Neolithic sedimentary sequence from Queens Sedgemoor, Somerset


Dr Tom Hill – NHM


23 Sept - 4.00 pm


Earth Sciences Seminar Room (Basement, WEB 05)


A sediment core extracted from Queen’s Sedgemoor, Somerset Levels, has undergone high resolution radiocarbon dating. Subsequent directed micropalaeontological (palynological, diatom and calcareous microfossil) analyses focussed on the sedimentary sequence associated with the Mesolithic and early Neolithic periods.


This talk summarises the radiocarbon results and associated multiproxy analyses for the sedimentary sequence. Radiocarbon dating has identified a sequence dating back to the Mesolithic period (7.6ky BP). Microfossil evidence indicates hydroseral succession has taken place, with  the initial establishment of a freshwater lake, prior to undergoing terrestrialisation and eventually developing into a raised bog.


Holocene sea-level change also influenced the sedimentary archive. Due to a rise in relative sea level c. 6.7ky BP, subsequent coastal inundation and estuarine sedimentation took place, hereby associated with the Lower Wentlooge Formation of the Somerset Levels. Poor microfossil preservation was encountered within the section associated with the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition, but a clear picture of landscape change is presented for the sedimentary archive, with microfossil and microscopic charcoal evidence indicative of landscape modification by humans since the late Mesolithic.


More information on attending seminars at


Daubenton was an EU Leonardo da Vinci programme-funded project which provided participants with a two-week training placement at an institution in Europe. Participants could visit Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, Naturhistoriska riksmuseet Stockholm, University of Copenhagen, Museum of Natural History of University of Florence, Naturalis, Leiden, Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin, or Národni Museum, Prague.


The project enabled collections management, technical and public engagement staff to visit collaborating institutions across Europe, allowing them to broaden their skills and expertise and significantly raise their awareness of alternative approaches to the management, display and educational use of museum collections as applied in other European institutions. Much of the learning experience revolved around observing how and why particular procedures are adopted and implemented with hands-on effort.


Participants from the Museum, National Museums Wales and World Museum Liverpool will be sharing their experiences of working in a European institute, how different institutions use and manage their collections, and what applications the findings from their visits had in their home institution. There will also be a short presentation on the possibility of a future similar project to be applied for under Erasmus+ Key Action 1, and how to get involved.

Collections Seminar Series - FINAL Daubenton 7 Aug.jpg


Robert W. Scotland, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford


Wednesday 9 July 11:00


Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)



The collective efforts of taxonomists over time has played a pivotal role in identifying many natural groups of monophyletic taxa.  How this task has been achieved is by no means clear given that for much of the history of taxonomy there has been no universally agreed method for discovering taxa. Nevertheless, many monophyletic taxa were discovered through the identification of shared characters (novelties, special similarities, synapomorphies, taxic homologues, good characters, conserved characters).  It seems the history of taxonomy is the history of ‘character weighting’ in favour of some characters being useful and others not. In more recent times all characters have been considered phylogenetically useful but only at the appropriate hierarchical level. Thus phylogenetic analysis of morphological data has become akin to the study of character evolution. 


In this talk I will show that morphological traits are poorly correlated with phylogeny and that measures ofphylogenetic diversity in conservation may not maximize feature diversity. Furthermore, because the probability of two random binary characters being compatible with each other converges to zero exponentially quickly as the number of taxa grows, then compatibility is best able to accurately discover and distinguish evolutionary novelty.


More information on attending seminars at

1 2 3 4 ... 22 Previous Next