The project will focus on understanding the biological characteristics that allow algae to live within another cell.

Exeter bioscientist awarded Royal Society University Research Fellowship

A University of Exeter bioscientist is one of 43 UK scientists to be made a Royal Society University Research Fellow for 2014. Dr Thomas Richards from Biosciences will use his fellowship to study how two cells work together to operate as one unit, a process known as endosymbiosis.

Dr Richards said: “I am honoured to receive this fellowship. The fellowship project will focus on understanding the biological characteristics that allow algae - that utilise the energy from the sun to make sugar - to live within another cell. This host cell protects the algae and provides it with nutrients in exchange for some of the sugar produced.”

Dr Richards’ project, entitled ‘Dissecting a nascent phototrophic endosymbiotic interaction’ will improve our understanding of how complex cells evolved by the process of endosymbiosis where two cells become one. Endosymbiosis is a very important process by which complex cells utilise energy. In the case of this project the two cells come together to become co-operatively capable of harnessing solar energy.

“This is an example of the very cell-cell associations that reshaped Earth’s environment and led to the evolution of plants which turned the terrestrial surface of our planet green.” said Dr Richards.

The newly appointed University Research Fellows are working on a wide variety of projects including discovering the origin of fermion masses at the LHC, exploring new science and technology in novel layered materials, and detecting electrostatic fields in bees.

The University Research Fellowship scheme aims to provide outstanding scientists, who have the potential to become leaders in their chosen fields, with the opportunity to build an independent research career. The scheme is extremely competitive and University Research Fellows are expected to be strong candidates for permanent posts in universities at the end of their fellowships.

The Royal Society is a self-governing Fellowship of many of the world’s most distinguished scientists drawn from all areas of science, engineering, and medicine. The Society’s fundamental purpose, as it has been since its foundation in 1660, is to recognise, promote, and support excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity. 

Date: 22 September 2014

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