Career so far
PhD in Pharmacology, University College Dublin, Ireland
Postdoc in Harvard, Dept Molecular and Cellular Biology, Boston, MA. USA
Postdoc at U Penn, Philadelphia, PA. USA
MRC Harwell Institute, current position.
Can you explain what you do at MRC Harwell Institute?
Our research group at Harwell routinely use approaches focused on generating and characterising mouse models with behavioural deficits. This covers the use of null mutants, transgenics and mutants with ENU-induced point mutations. In concert with this, we use an extensive battery of behavioural screens to identify and characterise the mutants. This includes analysis of circadian wheel-running activity, immobility-defined sleep and light-responsiveness. We are constantly developing new ways of investigating mouse behaviour and, recently, this has included the development of methods to track group-housed social behaviours in the home cage over extended periods. As a complement to this work, we use a number of mechanistic studies to help explain what is happening at a molecular and cellular level in mutants.
What led you to choose a career in this field?
I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that our molecular make-up has an important role in influencing how we behave. During my early postdoctoral years I became familiar with the work of Seymour Benzer. Benzer and his group of postdocs and students had developed a number of interesting behavioural tests and they used these to identify behavioural mutants in Drosophila mutagenesis screens, including those affecting circadian rhythms and memory. This work has been a template for my own work in mouse neurogenetics.
What drives you? Has this changed over the years?
The opportunity to discover and share new genes and mechanisms underlying behaviour.
What has been your biggest breakthrough in research in the last 10 years?
Our recent major discovery has been in the identification of a new transcriptional axis in the suprachiasmatic nucleus driven by ZFHX3. ZFHX3 is important in establishing cell fate in the SCN but also has an important function in maintaining the correct levels of gene expression in adult SCN. If ZFHX3 is mutated, circadian rhythms can be substantially messed up!
What is your ultimate goal as a researcher?
To continue to produce frontline research in neurogenetics that is respected and stands up to the peer review process.
Tell us something interesting about yourself
Even in my advanced years, I am still keen on checking out new music (anything really aside from Metal!). I check out live bands whenever I can. Otherwise, my time is taken up with beer, gardens, beer-gardens and a bit of casual biking.