Dr. Jeremy Brownlie is a Senior Lecturer and Deputy Head of the School of Natural Sciences at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, as well as Secretary of Science and Technology Australia. He received his B.S. and Ph.D. in Genetics from The Australian National University. He went on to conduct postdoctoral research at The University of Queensland before joining the faculty at Griffith University where he is today. Jeremy is here with us today to tell us all about his journey through life and science.
People Behind the Science Podcast Show Notes
Life Outside of Science (02:01)
When Jeremy is out of the lab, he is kept quite busy by his 9 years old twins. They enjoy mountain biking and swimming at the beach.
The Scientific Side (02:43)
Jeremy studies how bacteria can influence behavior in animals. Specifically, his research focuses on how sleep, memory, and learning behaviors in flies are affected by bacterial infection. He is also investigating use of bacteria to control the spread of viruses by insects in agricultural systems.
A Dose of Motivation (03:30)
One of Jeremy’s favorite quotes is about power and how the restraint of power is its most powerful expression. It is also about being considerate in your actions and taking time to think before you act.
What Got You Hooked on Science? (04:36)
Science attracted Jeremy’s attention from a very early age. His father was a park ranger, so Jeremy and his family grew up living in a national park, surrounded by biology. There also happened to be a large NASA space tracking station nearby, and the parents of many of Jeremy’s peers at school worked there. In fourth grade, Jeremy had a particularly wonderful teacher who was passionate about science and encouraged her students to be inquisitive about the world around them. Jeremy’s interest in genetics, however, began after reading a story in English class where one of the characters was a geneticist.
The Low Points: Failures and Challenges (17:55)
Jeremy struggled during his postdoctoral fellowship. It was a tough transition from the relative freedom and independence of his PhD work to working in a complex team environment as a postdoc. Further, some initially exciting results came out less exciting in larger experiments and were at some points not reproducible. This was particularly stressful because Jeremy was working with an honors student on this project, and he was worried that his inability to figure out what the problem was could negatively impact someone else’s career in addition to his own.
A Shining Success! (21:45)
An exciting project Jeremy worked on as a postdoc was examining the interface between viruses and a type of bacteria called Wolbachia. Insects with Wolbachia were not susceptible to viral infection because the Wolbachia disrupted viral replication before the insect could be infected by the virus. He was working with an undergraduate student on a project using a set of flies that had been previously subjected to antibiotic treatment. When the student borrowed some flies that had been infected with Wolbachia, they got really interesting results that were published in the journal Science. This project as a new faculty member was one of Jeremy’s biggest successes.
Book Recommendations (24:20)
Sydney Brenner: A Biography by Errol C. Friedberg
Most Treasured Travel (28:41)
Kolymvari, a small town on the island of Crete in Greece, is Jeremy’s favorite travel destination. His field has had a several conferences there, and Jeremy has been very impressed by the location and the science. The place they stayed was a secluded monastery that has come to feel like the spiritual home for the Wolbachia field. Jeremy and his colleagues enjoyed fantastic food, warm weather, the picturesque blue ocean, and superb scientific discussions.
Quirky Traditions and Funny Memories (26:04)
When Jeremy worked at the University of Queensland, he was a part of a larger group that would organize annual retreats to the islands off the coast near Brisbane. They would spend a few days eating, cooking, and talking science. At these retreats, there was a tradition of participating in the crazy scientific idea competition. Each person would present their crazy idea, and the attendees would vote for the best one. The idea selected would be funded on a small scale. This encouraged, creativity, curiosity, and great conversations.
Advice For Us All (32:03)
Science is social. The best thing you can do is talk to as many people as you can, particularly those outside of your research area. Even if you don’t learn something from that conversation that you can directly apply to your own research, it is great practice communicating your science. Try to stay in touch with people and continue building your scientific network. Also, read as much as you can to stay ahead in your field.
Jeremy’s lab focuses on the biology of Wolbachia, a bacterial endosymbiont that infects many different insects and nematodes. Wolbachia has a diverse range of effects on the host including the ability to reduce host life span, manipulate host reproduction systems and mutualism. Currently his lab uses genomics, molecular biology and classic organismal techniques. One area of research in the lab is examining whether Wolbachia can provision metabolites, like iron or riboflavin, to their insect hosts. Another area is investigating whether Wolbachia protect their insect hosts against other pathogens such as viruses or fungi. Other projects are exploring the role of Wolbachia in nematode biology.