Can’t get enough of that wonderful DUF: Jack Scanlan joins RealScientists

Jack Scanlan is a Master of Science student at the University of Melbourne researching insect detoxification genetics, a one-man over-thinking machine, and head editor of the Young Australian Skeptics. Once the LGBT movement succeeds in “destroying” the sacred institution of marriage, he plans on wedding the concept of science. But in the meantime, for the next week of @RealScientists, he’s all yours.

Jack’s research interests include molecular genetics, protein biochemistry and evolutionary biology, and the many ways that they can fit together. This includes things like metabolic evolution, protein family evolution, regulatory evolution, endosymbiosis, plant-insect interactions and xenobiotic detoxification. His Masters research project in the Robin Lab is focused on an uncharacterised phosphotransferase gene family in insects that may be involved in the detoxification of plant defence chemicals, and involves a lot of swearing at questionably-curated insect genome annotations with helpful descriptions like ‘Domain of Unknown Function’. Jack admires biologists who study humans, but falls asleep when he thinks too long about medicine, anatomy or immunology.

Caught the red-eye

Caught the red-eye

The gene family Jack is working on is called DUF227, is most informatively described as ‘a protein family of unknown function’, and may be involved in inactivating the insect moulting hormone ecdysone, hence their description by some molecular databases as ‘ecdysteroid kinases’ – a ‘kinase’ is an enzyme which adds a phosphate group to some other biological molecule, such as another enzyme or a steroid, to change its activity. A ‘phosphatase’ takes a phosphate group away. Some enzymes can do both functions. Together, both classes of enzymes are broadly called ‘phosphotransferases’ and are very important in regulation of development, metabolism and cell signalling throughout all forms of life. Regulating the activity of molecules by adding or taking away a phosphate group is a highly ‘conserved’ (in evolution-speak) process. While DUF227 has been characterised as an ecdysteroid phosphotransferase (read as: insect-steroid phosphate-group-transferring enzyme) in the silkworm, and a version of Drosophila (the fruit fly, which is a ‘model organism’ for insect genetics) DUF227 has been linked to organophosphate insecticide resistance, it’s still broadly unknown what the DUF227 family actually ‘does’ in a biochemical sense in other insect families, or what processes it’s involved in. It’s worth remembering that different families of insects are usually separated by massive evolutionary distances – several hundreds of millions of years, much greater than the differences between (for instance) mammalian groups – so information taken from one species may not be the story across all or most insects.

Passionate about the interaction of science, skepticism, philosophy, religion, media and society, Jack loves to communicate and develop ideas in any way he possibly can. In his non-science-based spare time, he’s partial to pretentious indie music, amateur audio production, clever comedy, iconic British sci-fi, and American political fantasy shows set on and around the fictional continent of Westeros.

When he’s not dictatorially overseeing the Young Australian Skeptics or producing/editing its podcast, The Pseudoscientists, Jack blogs for The Panda’s Thumb and Nature Education’s Student Voices, and has written for COSMOS Magazine as a freelancer. He writes about intelligent design, evolutionary biology and nonsense at Homologous Legs, his personal blog. Jack tweets at @JackLScanlan. He also has tremendous hair.

Jack RS big

So if you don’t know Jack, you will after this week. Please welcome him to RealScientists.


James is a recovering scientist and escaped postdoc who works in research management at the University of Otago, New Zealand. He's now retired from active @RealScientists duty, after serving from the project's beginnings in 2013 through to mid 2015. When not managing research, surviving #PlanetParenthood or pretending not to be an expat Australian in the Deep South of NZ, he tweets @theotherdrsmith.

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