Lightning Strikes at TCD

Secret Vatican archives, xenophobia, de-extinction, parasitism and hoovers were just a few of the many topics on the menu at the 2017 School of Natural Sciences Lightning Talks. This annual event brought together 24 PhD students and Professors from across the Botany, Geography, Geology and Zoology disciplines to present their research and battle it out to win the respect of their colleagues (and bragging rights). The catch? Presentations were limited to 120 seconds, a difficult feat considering how much scientists like to talk about their own work!

The Zoology department was out in full force, with seven presentations and four prizes. For her work on parasites in freshwater systems, Maureen Williams was awarded the third prize. For telling us if invasive fish have parasites and which parasites those are, Paula Tierney was awarded the Nature+ prize. For bringing us on a biogeographical journey through speciation, Fionn Ó Marcaigh was given an honourable mention. Finally, for my own research looking at how to prioritise species for cryogenic storage in ‘frozen zoos,’ I was awarded the first prize on the night.

Photo credit:

Frozen zoos are large reservoirs of cryogenically frozen and stored genetic material from numerous species. The largest frozen zoo in the world is kept within San Diego Zoo and houses more than 10,000 cell cultures, representing more than 1,000 species and subspecies. Although this is a substantial resource and many rare (and even extinct!) species are present in the collection, the way in which samples have been collected to date has been opportunistic and lacking a comprehensive plan or goal. As a result, we are likely missing key opportunities to collect samples from species which are on the brink of extinction or have already gone extinct. Continue reading “Lightning Strikes at TCD”

If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?

A recent study led by Sam Ross (Trinity College Dublin) and Dr. Nick Friedman and published in the journal Ecological Research, aims to ask how much we can learn from bioacoustic monitoring of ecosystems. Read more in the blog post snippet below, or see the full blog post on the IMECO blog:

“A recent study led by myself and Dr. Nick Friedman asks whether we can accurately measure how diverse different ecosystems are on the island of Okinawa, Japan. We set up 24 monitoring sites across the island in different locations – in forests, grassland, mangroves, near the beach and in the city – to monitor all the sounds that are produced near each site. We found that we can detect individual species and relate these sounds to natural patterns including the ‘dawn chorus,’ and we could identify sites with heavy human activity. All without having to look for any species.

The rise of bioacoustics

Technology is advancing worldwide. Everything from phones to microwaves is getting more advanced. Instruments for ecological research are no different. Our satellite tracking tags are improving; they’re getting lighter, cheaper and can store more data than ever before. We can use complex chemical techniques to understand who eats whom in a food web, and drones now allow us to image even remote habitats with relative ease. With these advances comes the rise of acoustic monitoring techniques for biological signals (bioacoustics for short)…”

Read the full blog post on the IMECO blog. 


About the Author

Sam Ross is a PhD student in Ian Donohue’s research group in the Department of Zoology, Trinity College Dublin. His research focuses on the effects of global change on ecological stability. Find out more about his research here:

Website |
Twitter | @SamRPJRoss
Research Gate | Profile 
Google Scholar | Profile
Linkedin | Profile
ORCID | 0000-0001-9402-9119

A recipe for collaboration


Recently, along with Adam Kane, Kevin Healy, Graeme Ruxton and Andrew Jackson, we published a review on scavenging behaviour in vertebrates through time in Ecography.

This paper was my first review paper as well as my first paper written from afar, without ever actually meeting in a room with the co-authors for working on the project.

Difficulty: *

Preparation time: 5 month to submission

Serves: 5 people (but any manageable number of people who you like working with will do)


  • An exciting topic:

For this recipe you will need an exciting topic.

In this case, prior to writing the review, we had often discussed the prevalence of scavenging behaviour through time and what ecological factors influence it.

Indeed, it came as a natural follow up to a paper published by the other co-authors earlier this year on ‘the scavenging ability of theropod dinosaurs’.

More generally, the topic should be broad enough to allow every person to look for anecdotes (did you know there was once a ‘scavenging bat called *Necromantis*?’ and to bring these together in an interesting, more generalised framework. Continue reading “A recipe for collaboration”

Trump and the future of “America’s best idea.”


In 1872 Yellowstone National Park was established as the first National Park not only in the USA, but in the world. President Ulysses S. Grant signed into law the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act, and so the National Parks were born. Today 59 National Parks exist throughout the United States, covering approximately 51.9 million acres with the goal of maintaining in perpetuity both wildlife and their habitat. Since 1916 the National Park Service (NPS) has been entrusted with the care of these National Parks, and this year they celebrate their centenary.

The National Parks have been referred to as “America’s best idea”, an ideology that has spread across the globe promoting the conservation of what little natural habitat and resources remain. What began as a single National Park in 1872 has spread to over 100 nations and been built up to approximately 1,200 National Parks.

In the wake of Trump’s shock election win, researchers, scientists, conservationists and a significant proportion of the public are lamenting for our natural world.It is no secret that Donald Trump does not openly believe in climate change, refusing to accept the overwhelming scientific evidence. Not only this but he has also promised to dismantle the Paris Agreement which sought to limit the temperature rise associated with global warming to below 2°C in order to reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.

Today the NPS actively teaches about, and warns of, the dangers of climate change to both the National Parks and the natural world at large. However, it is feared that the NPS will be silenced under a Trump Administration. Under the second Bush Administration talk of climate change by the NPS was prohibited under a decree from the Secretary of the Interior. Similar circumstances are expected under a Trump Administration, with Sarah Palin expected to be made Secretary of the Interior. If this comes to fruition then Palin would oversee the extraction of natural resources on approximately 500 million acres of public land, including the iconic National Parks, such as the Grand Canyon and Yosemite. Palin’s stance on natural resources leaves little hope as she has actively campaigned for the drilling of oil within the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, the nation’s largest Wildlife Refuge, at the expense of the wildlife within it: “If a caribou needs to be sacrificed for the sake of energy … I say, ‘Mr. Caribou, maybe you need to take one for the team.’” Continue reading “Trump and the future of “America’s best idea.””

Studying worms – a Nobel calling

Professor William Campbell with Professors Celia Holland (front right) and Yvonne Buckley (front left). Back row L-R Professor Holland’s parasitology research group: Dr Peter Stuart, Gwen Deslyper, Maureen Williams, Rachael Byrne and Paula Tierney


“Parasites are not generally regarded as being loveable. When we refer to people as parasites we are not being complimentary, we are not praising them. We tend to think that a parasite is the sort of person who goes through a revolving door on somebody else’s push. This is unfair. It’s unfair to real parasites… It is time for parasites to get a little more respect!”                                                        – Professor William C. Campbell during his 2015 Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

In 2015, Prof. William C. Campbell, a Trinity Zoology graduate, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, for his discovery of ivermectin. The drug can be used to treat a wide range of parasites, but is most widely known for its effectiveness against river blindness. In 1987 the pharmaceutical company Merck enabled the free distribution of the drug to developing countries.

This Nobel Prize, which Prof. Campbell shared with his then colleague Prof. Satoshi Ōmura, is an important accomplishment not only for the Professors themselves as the cherry on top of their careers, but it is also important for the wider academic community.

This Nobel Prize is of importance to what Prof. Celia Holland described as ‘the international worm community’. This community has been struggling for many years to get recognition and funding. This prize therefore finally highlights the importance of parasitic worms. A lot of these parasites are often, despite their wide prevalence, classified as ‘neglected tropical diseases’. Neglected tropical diseases mainly affect the poor communities and are often forgotten in research and in the ‘public health agenda’. It remains to be seen whether some parasites will ever be able to shake their neglected status, but this Nobel Prize and associated international attention could be a great step in the right direction.

Hopefully, other pharmaceutical companies will take note of this prize. Giving away lifesaving medicine should be celebrated. We all know of the negative press pharmaceutical companies have gotten such as the recent price hikes in epi-pens. However, we tend to forget and ignore when pharmaceutical companies go to great lengths to help those in need. I see this prize also as a celebration of Merck for showing how it can be done differently. Because, really, what is the point of us producing any medical research if it doesn’t translate into affordable medicine?

During Prof. Campbell’s visit to TCD, the provost announced a new lectureship position in parasitology in honour of Prof. Campbell and the work he has done for the international worm community. Needless to say that this position would not have existed without Prof. Campbell’s Nobel Prize. Parasitology is a struggling field worldwide and every lectureship position is one to be valued and celebrated. This lectureship shows the commitment of the university to parasitology and will reinforce Trinity’s leading role in parasitological research within Ireland.

Additionally, this is an inspirational story for a lot of people. The story of ivermectin is a great motivation for parasitologists like myself. I work on a parasitic nematode called Ascaris, which infects 800 million people worldwide every year. Much like river blindness, it is also a neglected tropical disease, and as is often the case for these types of diseases, there isn’t much interest or funding going around. So it’s great at the start of my PhD to see that this type of research can also be honoured and valued.

I’ve read interviews of Prof. Campbell where he said that this prize meant the end of his retirement. I’m sorry to hear that his well-deserved retirement has been shaken up, but Prof. Campbell took one for the team and is promoting parasitic worm research to whoever wants to listen, just as he did before, only now he has a broader audience.

Author: Gwen Deslyper (seen charming Bill at 1:49 )

A Nobel Pursuit

Splitting the atom, unlocking the secrets of radiation, or even leading a peaceful civil rights movement.


I grew up knowing that these were the sorts of achievements that earn you a gold medal and an invitation to Sweden in mid-December. I have since learned that the annual ceremony held in honour of Alfred Nobel hasn’t always been awarded to the most deserving candidate, and that sometimes the winners simply stumbled upon a discovery that changed the world. This was not the case with the 2015 Nobel prize for Physiology and Medicine.


Scientists rarely aim for such high levels recognition, as it often comes decades after the initial discovery. Working in Natural Sciences is often considered a noble pursuit in itself, with the aim of one’s research to protect our planet. While undeniably important, rarely does work from our field receive the recognition afforded to Nobel Prize winners.


This year, the department of Zoology joined illustrious company in having one of our alumni named as a Nobel laureate. William (Bill) Cecil Campbell was born in Donegal in 1930. He studied Zoology at Trinity College Dublin, graduating in 1952, before beginning his PhD in the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


His research centered upon the field of parasitology, initially working on parasitic worms as an undergraduate with Professor Desmond Smyth, which, as Dr Campbell puts it, “changed [his] life by developing [his] interest in this particular field”. Upon completing his PhD, it was his work at the Merck Institute of Therapeutic Research on parasitic roundworms that led to the discovery of a class of drugs called avermectins with Satoshi Ōmura, that would help to control two of the world’s most debilitating diseases: lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis.


Lymphatic filariasis, more commonly known as elephantiasis, is caused by filarial nematodes, using mosquitos as a vector for the disease. They enter a new victim as larvae, which migrate to the lymph nodes of the legs and genitals, and mature into adults. When these worms die, they trigger intense inflammation. This blocks the flow of lymph, which accumulates under the skin, causing limbs and groins to swell to gigantic proportions.


Onchocerciasis, more commonly known as river blindness, is also caused by filarial nematodes, but of a different species. These are spread by blackfly bites, entomb themselves in deeper tissues, and release larvae that migrate to the skin (where they cause severe itching) and the eyes (in which they can cause blindness).

The avermectins that Campbell and Ōmura discovered, and especially their most potent member ivermectin, can control the symptoms of these diseases by killing the larval nematodes.


Unlike many drug discoveries of this magnitude, Dr Campbell’s employer, the Merck Institute of Therapeutic Research decided to release the drugs for free for those that need them. As a result of their altruism, their discovery reached potentially millions more people than would usually be able to afford such a drug. Although Dr Campbell is credited with floating the idea of releasing the drug for free, he insisted in a recent interview with The Irish Times that his chairman, Roy Vagelos be credited with making the ultimate decision on its release. In describing the decision, Campbell remarked “I think it was done because it was the right thing to do, and I think the employees applauded it, because they thought it was the right thing to do.”

In a typically understated fashion, and unlike some recipients before him, Dr Campbell never hoped to win this award. Instead, he dreamt of one-day curing malaria, a goal he feels is achievable to young scientists willing to keep an “open mind” to their research.


This award offers a timely reminder that the research carried out both within these walls, and when our alumni move on has the potential to make an impact far beyond our initial intentions. As Dr Campbell “The greatest challenge for science is to think globally, think simply and act accordingly. It would be disastrous to neglect the diseases of the developing world. One part of the world affects another part. We have a moral obligation to look after each other, but we’re also naturally obligated to look after our own needs. It has to be both.”

author: Dermott McMorrough, with thanks to Dr Celia Holland.


images:, wikicommons.

Back to School.

Welcome back everyone.


As the dusts settles on a hectic first couple of weeks, we finally have a chance to welcome everyone back from the much needed summer break (for those who got one).

We started this week with the exciting news that an alumnus of TCD Zoology, Dr William (Bill) Campbell has been awarded the Nobel prize for physiology and medicine with Satoshi Omura “for their discoveries concerning a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworm parasites”. Dr Campbell joins Dr Ernest Walton and Samuel Beckett as graduates of Trinity College Dublin to win the award. Obviously, exciting news such as this deserves its own blog post, so watch this space.

Tuesday brought with it the first Nerd Club of the year, as our research and teaching staff got together to plan the year of workshops, talks and presentations to keep us ticking over until May. As each week will cover different topics of interest to our readers, we’ll endeavour to write short openness to summarise the results of our discussions.

The Michelmas term brings with it the commencement of undergraduate teaching, and we are delighted to welcome back our returning Senior Sophistors, as well as our new crop of Junior Sophs, fresh from their marine field ecology trip to Portaferry.

ZooSoc has hit the ground running for the 42nd session, with dozens of events planned for the coming months under the guidance of Fionn Ó Marcaigh and his dedicated committee. Keep an eye on their Facebook, and twitter for details.

For regular news updates form the department of Zoology, be sure to check out Zoobytes on Facebook.

If you would like to contribute to the EcoEvo Blog,  please send us an email at ecoevoblog[at]


author: Dermott McMorrough, twitter: @derm_mcm, email: mcmorrd[at]