Tracey Chapman – Mating messages and pest control

Name: Tracey Chapman

Location: UEA, Norwich

What do you do?
I’m interested in evolution and genetics, focusing on the messages passed between males and female during mating. I study in fruit flies and focus on the effects on females of molecules in the male semen that are transferred along with sperm during mating. These molecules may help males to manipulate the female to invest more in this current mating than in her previous or future ones. This can result in a ‘battle of the sexes’. This is both interesting in terms of gaining fundamental new knowledge and also because we are able to take these findings and translate them usefully into the study of insect pest control. There is an important pest known as the Mediterranean fruit fly in which females lay eggs in over 300 plant species including many important crops. They can be controlled using the ‘sterile insect technique’. This is where sterile males are reared in the lab and hundreds subsequently released into the wild. These sterile males mate with wild females who then don’t produce any offspring, causing a reduction in the pest population. However, for this technique to work, males need to be able to effectively find and mate with females, which is where our research comes in and why we need to know about reproductive signalling between the sexes.

What can you see?
Our lab has a big window that looks out onto the walkway of the Sainsbury’s Center for Visual Arts (SCVA) at the University of East Anglia. We saw the Queen arrive in her bright pink dress when she came to visit the Fiji exhibition recently and also saw the big crowds to watch the filming when the SCVA doubled for ‘Avengers’ HQ!  In the lab itself we have 8 stations, each with a microscope and our fly-pushing instruments (a paintbrush and pen!)

When I’m not doing science I…
I bought a bassoon about 15 years ago and have been trying to learn to play it ever since. I also love to read and to watch terrible movies. Something with a lot of car chases and crashes like Die Hard or the Bourne films.

If you’d like to find out more about Tracey’s research, and other cutting each research at UEA, check out their twitter feed:@UEAResearch