COVID-19 update, changes to teaching and the latest research...
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Zoology alumni

Dear {cudar.best_name},

COVID-19

We are proud to report that the Department is successfully adapting to the difficult challenges provided by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some members of the Department have been carrying out vital research directly related to the pandemic and others have been acting as volunteers in local testing centres. We have adjusted how we teach and assess our students, and we are looking forward to welcoming back a full cohort of students to the Department in the Michaelmas Term.

The Department is now open for the safe return of those doing laboratory work and we are doing all we can to ameliorate the problems that some graduate students and postdocs have undoubtedly faced. The short Q & A with our Departmental Administrator below fleshes out how we are reorganising our labs for the new conditions.

The future

We are delighted to announce the appointment of two lecturers (Dr Emília Santos, Lecturer in Evolutionary Biology and Dr Helen Leggett, Lecturer in Evolution and Medicine). The research news here features exciting work done by the youngest members of the Department, as either undergraduates, graduates or postdocs.

Zoology Alumni Day 2020: Field trip in the Brecks

Because of the current situation, we have decided to hold our Zoology Alumni Day not in the Department but in the open air at the iconic Breckland locality of Cavenham Heath (assuming regulations allow this). The visit will start at 2pm on Saturday 5 September, and will be led by Professor William Sutherland and Dr Lynn Dicks. We hope that lots of you will take the chance to meet up and find out, on the ground, about the ecology of this fascinating area. Please register your interest at the end of the newsletter.

Best wishes,

Dr William Foster

Teaching during lockdown: survival and adaptation
Tim Weil talking to students at the Part II open day in early March

We are working hard to provide for our Zoology students an educational experience that is as good as we can possibly make it under current lockdown conditions. We have formatively assessed our first- and second-year students, providing general feedback in lieu of formal marking and classing. Our Part II students completed their research projects and have been examined remotely, completing their papers online within a 24-hour window: they will be classed and then graduate in absentia this summer.

All our students will return to Cambridge next term and we are developing a range of innovative ways of teaching so that we can deliver the highest quality education within the projected limitations. These will include holding face-to-face small-group supervisions, the cornerstone of a Cambridge education.

Our postgraduate research students are back in the labs, albeit in a reduced capacity and with safe working practices. We are especially proud of the postgrads who have submitted and passed their vivas while in lock-down. We wish them the best of luck in their future endeavours.

Zoologists respond to COVID-19
Bioinformatics and COVID-19
Terry Jones and Barbara Mühlemann (PhD 2015-2019) of the Centre for Pathogen Evolution, are currently working full-time on bioinformatics in relation to the virus, at the Charité in Berlin. They are co-authors on papers that have appeared in Nature and The Lancet Infectious Diseases. A new study they are involved in shows that viral loads in infected children are only minimally lower than in adults and that around a third of such children carry a load above the threshold of infectivity.
Solution scanning
When COVID-19 struck the UK, William Sutherland was concerned that decision-makers were not considering the full range of options. Previous work in his group had shown this could be a serious problem. He assembled a team of 36 experts in public health, epidemiology, business and policy, from eight countries, to identify the options. A total of 275 options were identified: for example, if the concern is that a space is too congested, this gives 21 possible options for reducing or spacing out demand.

This research achieved enormous publicity with nine TV/radio interviews and well over 60 newspaper articles; the UK Government's chief scientist, Patrick Vallance, asked for a copy and the Irish Government adopted many of the ideas.
Volunteer 'lab rats' 

Professor Bill Amos, Principal Assistant Elizabeth MacRae, and Dr Helen Leggett have been volunteering on COVID-19 testing during lockdown. Bill and Liz are working at the Cambridge COVID testing centre, a joint venture between Cambridge University, AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline. Bill has been working in a team that triages the thousands of triple-wrapped samples that arrive every day. Exerting great care to spot rare leakages, volunteers read the barcodes of the samples, place them into ordered arrays and pass them on to the RNA extraction team. Liz works in this team and has enjoyed manning the automatic robots that perform the RNA extractions.

Helen has been working in the Cytology Department of the Cotman Centre in Norwich, which — together with the Virology Department in Norwich — covers all hospitals, care-homes and drive-through testing centres in Norfolk and Suffolk. This lab is also part of a national COVID-19 sequencing programme. 

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