Dr Tansy Hammarton: Winner of the Peter Wildy Prize 2018

Posted on April 22, 2020   by Microbiology Society

Each year, the Microbiology Society awards five Prize Lectures in recognition of significant contributions to microbiology. The awards celebrate the outstanding applications of microbiology to research, education and translation and all members are invited to nominate an outstanding microbiologist for a Microbiology Society Prize. We got in touch with former Peter Wildy Prize winner Dr Tansy Hammarton, University of Glasgow to ask her a few questions about her award and how this has impacted her research and engagement work since.

My main research for many years has investigated the cell division cycle in the African trypanosome, Trypanosoma brucei. T. brucei is a protozoan parasite responsible for the neglected tropical diseases; sleeping sickness in humans and Nagana in livestock and other animals in sub-Saharan Africa. Currently, there are no vaccines available to prevent these diseases, and there are limitations associated with the available drug treatments. 

I’m interested in the signaling molecules, such as protein kinases, that regulate cell division. In particular, my work focuses on those that control the final stage of cell division – cytokinesis. Cytokinesis occurs very differently in trypanosomes compared to more traditional model organisms such as yeast and animals – for example, trypanosomes don’t use a contractile actomyosin ring to divide – and therefore, understanding how trypanosomes regulate their cell division is not only really interesting from a biological or evolutionary point of view, but may also provide insights that could be exploited in future for novel drug discovery efforts.

More recently, my lab has also started working on cell division in Trypanosoma congolense, a more common cause of Nagana than T. brucei, and in Leishmania mexicana, which causes another neglected tropical disease called Leishmaniasis. In both cases, we are exploiting recent developments in molecular tools in these organisms, which now make the type of studies we want to do possible. For our Leishmania work, we are also collaborating with an engineering lab to develop novel microfluidic methods for isolating different cell cycle stages as a tool to facilitate downstream analysis.

How has your work developed since winning your Prize?

My prize was for my public engagement work with schools over a number of years. Since winning the Peter Wildy Prize, I have continued to run my annual microbiology and parasitology workshops for primary school pupils during British Science Week and my Microbiology Disease Detective labs for secondary pupils during Glasgow Science Festival. These hands-on activities continue to be highly popular and we are oversubscribed every year. It would be great to increase capacity – but realistically, given the large number of scientist volunteers these activities involve – this would be a challenge, but I am considering developing some online material that would increase the reach of these workshops, especially as they were cancelled this year due to the Covid-19 lockdown. I also continue to run public engagement and science communication training for our undergraduate and postgraduate students – it’s great to be able to share my first-hand experience of how public engagement work can be recognised and rewarded.

What was the highlight of delivering your lecture?

Having such a large audience for my lecture was quite exhilarating – it is rare that you get to talk about public engagement to so many people, so that was pretty special. However, I also really enjoyed talking to people on a one-to-one basis afterwards, as it allowed me to meet people who were also interested in public engagement, and to find out about their work in this area. It was great to have my work valued and rewarded through this Prize Lecture; public engagement is often overlooked amongst the other aspects of academic work, and it was lovely to have my achievements in this area recognised.

Why do you believe it is important to nominate colleagues for the Society’s Prize Lectures?

The Society’s Prize Lectures provide valuable and prestigious recognition of the receiver’s achievements as well as a platform to showcase their work. I think they also encourage members of the Society to attend lectures on a subject that may be out of their area of expertise, thereby broadening their knowledge and appreciation of science. I very much enjoyed attending some of the other Prize Lectures while I was at Annual Conference.

How did you find your overall experience from being nominated for the award to giving your talk?

Very rewarding – it was obviously great to be nominated and I’m extremely grateful to Gill Douce and David Bhella for nominating me, but it was a very happy moment to discover that I had been chosen to receive the award as I certainly hadn’t expected to win.

I enjoyed putting together my talk as I’d had so much fun doing public engagement in the first place, and it was really nice to be back at a Microbiology Society meeting and to catch up with former colleagues from my microbiology days (I did my PhD on E. coli!). I also got to attend the Emerging Model Systems Symposium & catch up with some fellow parasitologists. Giving my talk was somewhat nerve-wracking but I was very well looked after by Society president Neil Gow, and I enjoyed the Prize Winners’ dinner afterwards!

Nominations for the 2021 Prize Lectures and the 2022 Prize Medal lecture are now welcomed

To nominate someone for a Prize Lecture, please visit the relevant Prize Lecture page to find out more about its remit, judging criteria and past winners of the Prize. You will also be able to download the nomination form on this page.

After you’ve read the form to determine what to include, you and your fellow nominator should contact the person you’d like to nominate so that you can work with them to complete the nomination form. Nominators should be members of the Society, but the candidate does not have to be one. We have provided example nomination forms to demonstrate the level of detail required for nominations.

To submit your nomination, please email the completed form along with any supporting documentation to [email protected].

If you have any queries, would like to be put in touch with a second nominator, or would like to talk through your ideas for a nomination, you can contact the Microbiology Society Prizes team for support via email at [email protected].