Podcast at the Sofia Science Festival: Would you ban trophy hunting in Africa?

Oxford graduate zoologist Dr Joanna Bagniewska, a teaching fellow at the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Reading, took an enraptured audience at the 2017 Sofia Science Festival through the debates on trophy hunting and conservation.

Listen to the podcast with Bulgaria Now’s Lance Nelson and The Sofia Globe’s Clive Leviev-Sawyer here.



The importance of sex in science

My post for Discov-Her, the L’Oreal Foundation blog.

In science, what difference does sex make? Dr. Joanna Bagniewska, ecologist, well-known science communicator and teaching fellow at the University of Reading, is here to explain.

I’m an ecologist – and ecologists talk about sex A LOT. We love to prod the underlying differences between sexes in different species. After all, why should we assume that males and females, which occupy different territories, have different diets and exhibit different behaviours, would be ecologically and evolutionarily identical?

Consequently, in the scientific articles in my field, the sex of study animals is reported on a regular basis. I was very surprised to find out, however, that this attitude is quite different in other disciplines, e.g. in biomedical research.

Until recently, in medical studies, female animals were treated simply as male animals with hormonal fluctuations. Such an oversimplification is, unfortunately, very often inappropriate and insufficient. Just last year a group of international researchers, led by scientists from McGill University, showed that when it comes to pain, not only is there a difference in tolerance and sensitivity between the sexes – there are also fundamental physiological differences in dealing with it. In rodents, the two sexes actually use different immune cells in the spinal cord to process the pain – T cells in females, and microglia in males. Yet, Jeffrey Mogil from McGill reports that only 3 out of 71 scientific articles published in the journal Pain in 2015 confirmed the use of experimental rodents of both sexes; almost 80% used only male animals. Research from UC Berkeley, led by Annaliese Beery, also showed a strong male bias in mammalian research in eight out of ten biological fields, most prominently in neuroscience. The authors suggest that studies focused solely on one sex should clearly indicate it in article titles.

There is a flip side of the coin, too – the sex of the researchers themselves. In 2014, a study led by Robert Sorge, found that mice and rats used in experiments react differently to male and female researchers. When exposed to the scent of male humans, the rodents become very stressed – so much so, that such strong stress acts as an analgesic. What does it mean? Rodents (of both sexes) handled by male researchers may be less sensitive to pain, and, as a consequence, the sex of the experimenter may lead to differences in baselines in behavioural studies, on which further applied research is then founded. Unfortunately, most of the time the sex of the researcher is not reported in publications, making comparisons between studies difficult, if not impossible.

Discoveries such as those mentioned above lead to questions about their future applicability: types of pain medicine developed, dosages trialled in pain studies, and relevance to human subjects. And while the American Congress has introduced the Research for All Act, requiring National Institutes of Health to run clinical trials on both men and women (in… 2015!), there is still a lack of consideration for sex in study animals, primary cells, or even cell lines.

Luckily the idea of gendered innovation, where gender and sex are incorporated into research principles, has been gaining recognition – largely due to the work of Londa Schiebinger of Stanford University. Thanks to this approach, it turned out that osteoporosis – historically considered a predominantly female disease – can have very serious consequences for males; conversely, heart disease is not just a male problem – but is diagnosed differently in females.

So… let’s talk about sex! Particularly in the context of good experimental design.

– Dr. Joanna Bagniewska

Brexit uncertainties threaten brain drain for UK science

A piece by Sylvia Hui, for Associated Press

Like many foreign scientists in Britain, Joanna Bagniewska was devastated when Britons voted to leave the European Union. The biology lecturer, a Polish migrant who found Britain a welcoming place to build her academic career over a decade, is suddenly seeing her job security and research prospects up in the air.

“I’m worried that after my current contract finishes, one of the prerequisites could be a permanent residence card,” she said. “I’d like to apply for EU grant money, but how much longer will it be available for?”

Continue reading Brexit uncertainties threaten brain drain for UK science

We’re not science automatons – we’re people: Meet Joanna Bagniewska

My interview for the Soapbox Science blog.

Dr Joanna Bagniewska is a zoologist working as a teaching fellow at Reading University’s School of Biological Sciences. Her research interests encompass ecology and conservation biology, particularly the subject of invasive species. She is a very keen science communicator – she won FameLab Poland, gave a talk at TEDxWarsaw, and she even does science stand-up comedy.  Meet Joanna in our Reading event, where she’ll be discussing “How Disney & Science don’t always go hand in hand”.

SS: Joanna, how did you get to your current position?

JB: While completing my undergraduate in Biology at Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany, I did an internship with the University of New South Wales. I spent two months in Australia’s Snowy Mountains examining road ecology – i.e. the impact of roads on the surrounding wildlife. I found the subject absolutely fascinating, and from that point onwards I knew that I wanted to research ecology and conservation biology. To get more international experience, I decided to spend a semester abroad at Rice University in Texas, where I obtained a lot of hands-on experience in herpetology and animal behaviour. After completing my undergraduate degree, I went on to obtain my MSc from Oxford University; my research focused on the methods used for monitoring South African canid species, such as jackals and foxes. I then stayed at Oxford for my doctorate, which examined the behavioural ecology of the American mink in the UK. After graduating, I worked for a start-up company for a few months, and then went on to be a lecturer at Nottingham Trent University. Eventually I moved back to West Midlands to take the post of a teaching fellow at Reading University’s School of Biological Sciences.

Continue reading We’re not science automatons – we’re people: Meet Joanna Bagniewska

Reading town centre to host Speaker’s Corner style science talks

An advert for Soapbox Science on getreading.co.uk

Take a look at some of these fascinating facts you could learn about at the Reading town centre event

Would you let a zoologist tell you the truth about the animals in Disney films? Warning: you might not be able to watch them in the same way ever again.

That’s what The University of Reading’s Dr Joanna Bagniewska will be doing at a Soapbox Science event at Reading town centre next weekend.

She will be telling children how Baloo from The Jungle Book isn’t as cuddly as he seems, and that Simba and Nala from The Lion King could actually be brother and sister – yeah, our minds are blown too.

The talk titled, How Disney and Science don’t always go hand in hand, is just one of the events sharing weird and wonderful facts at the science takeover in Reading on Saturday, July 9.

Bringing together professors from an array of environmental fields, the aim of the day is to promote female scientists who will be talking to audiences about some of the projects and ideas they have worked on.

Following the format of London Hyde Park’s Speaker’s Corner, the talks will run from midday to 3pm in Broad Street outside Sainsbury’s.

For now, take a look at these fascinating facts – just some of things you can discover on the day

  1. Overflows of untreated sewage into the River Thames adds up to tens of millions of tonnes every year. Each year, enough sewage discharges into the River Thames to fill the Albert Hall 450 times over.
  2. The levels of drug materials found in rivers are used to estimate the amount of drugs consumed in towns and cities.
  3. Mammals with large brains are more vulnerable to extinction. Big brains may help humans, but are bad news for other mammals.
  4. Palm oil is found in about 50 per cent of all packaged supermarket products, from your peanut butter to your soap.
  5. 14 out of the 18 different species of bat species found in the UK have been recorded in Berkshire and South Buckinghamshire.
There are currently 18 species of bat living in the UK.

The programme for the day:

  • Dr. Emily Lines, Queen Mary University of London – Forecasting the future of forests
  • Ms Amanda Zillig, Atkins – What lies beneath, exposing contaminated land risks in exposed ground
  • Dr Joanna Bagniewska, University of Reading – How Disney and Science don’t always go hand in hand
  • Ms Betty Flora Nakiru, University of Sussex – Climate change and drought, how to maximise usage of limited water
  • Ms Patricia Tumwine, Arup – You Poo Toom, an introduction to the Thames Tideway Tunnel Project
  • Kathryn Woolley, Hilson Moran – How I create air pollution
  • Dr Victoria Hilborne, London South Bank University – Contamination of water with drugs and their metabolites
  • Ms Kirstie Scott, University College London – Environmental forensics: fighting crime with mud, bugs and plants!
  • Dr Manuela Gonzalez-Suarez, University of Reading The problems of having a big brain and other things that increase extinction risk
  • Dr Lydia Cole, University of Oxford – Peanut butter, palm oil and peat
  • Ms Erika Degani University of Reading – Food security: how can biodiversity help?
  • Kate Harrington, Arup – Bringing wildlife into cities, an ecologists approach to development

Can science save football? Boffins believe they can make the beautiful game more beautiful

An article by Peter Hughes in The Oxford Times

AS 33,000 Oxford United fans packed the stands at Wembley this month, many were praying for victory.

But a football-mad Oxford scientist has suggested that loving the beautiful game is more of a science than a religion.

Science Oxford’s creative director Quentin Cooper joined a panel of footie-loving celebrity scientists to debate how scientific improvements could make the beautiful game even more beautiful.

In a talk called “Can Science Save Football?” at The Old Fire Station on March 31, the experts discussed corruption, injustice and big money in football, revealing how a scientific approach could make things better.

Continue reading Can science save football? Boffins believe they can make the beautiful game more beautiful

Interview for Sveriges Radio P4

An interview about our field course in Tovetorp for Sveriges Radio P4. Material (in English and Swedish): Carin Vidner.

Joanna Dagniewska och Richard Walters från Reading University. Foto: Carin Vidner/Sveriges Radio
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Joanna Bagniewska och Richard Walters från Reading University. Foto: Carin Vidner/Sveriges Radio

Zoologistudenter från Reading University i Storbritannien har i veckan besökt Tovetorps forskningsstation, för att uppleva och undersöka den biologiska mångfalden i området.

Doktor Joanna Bagniewska och Richard Walters från universitetet i Reading ligger bakom resan, och de tycker att forskningsstationen i Sörmland är ett perfekt mål för en forskningsresa på grund av att det finns så många olika djur- och växtarter representerade där. Bland annat en hel del arter som tidigare har funnits i Storbritannien, men som inte längre finns kvar i naturen där.