From freezing Montréal we head over to England to meet geneticist Dr Claire Kotecki (@klarusu),who studies ageing and Werner Syndrome using fruit flies as a model organism at the Open University, UK. Claire began her academic life in the arts before beginning a science degree and becoming hooked on the beauty of fruit fly research. We asked Claire our standard set of questions. Here she is in her own words:
Why/How did you end up in science?
After leaving school, I travelled and worked for a while and returned to university to study English. I took a break to teach and it made me realise that my study interests lay in Science not the Arts so I registered for a distance-learning degree with the OU and began studying Natural Sciences. A year into my degree, I managed to find a job in a lab that paid my way and my career grew from there.
Why did you choose your current field/what keeps you there?
My undergrad degree was Natural Sciences, so I studied both Biology & Geology throughout. I was also working as a Research Tech in a Drosophila lab. Here I discovered I was made for fly work. While the focus of my research has developed from pure ageing work to the wider field of genomic instability, my real love is the flies. To be able to work with them in an organisation that promotes lifelong learning and accessibility to of higher education keeps me absolutely motivated to remain in my field.
At the moment, I’m in a post that is predominantly teaching but with a lab and research time for my projects too. My main research focus is ageing and genome stability. In the lab, I am working with mutant fly lines to investigate the physiological role of WRN exonuclease and the implications for genome stability. In humans, WRN mutations are implicated in Werner Syndrome – a condition characterised by premature ageing and increased cancer occurrence, among other pathologies.
The OU delivers undergraduate degrees via distance learning and I am involved in writing courses for students in the Natural Sciences subject area, particularly the biology strand. My particular area of interest is in promoting and ensuring full accessibility for all students, whilst maximising the reach and engagement with scientific study using modern technologies.
Motivation: why should the lay public care about your research/work?
We all age. In developed countries, the burden of sustaining ageing populations is immense. Understanding the fundamental processes and interactions, the effects of environment and genetics, in organisms as they age is key to understanding how we can help people age healthily. This has a smaller scale benefit to individuals and a wider benefit to society.
Understanding processes that keep our genomes (all our genes) free from mutation can help us to understand why these processes break down and become less efficient as we age. This can shed light on ageing but also on some potential areas that are implicated in cancers, and so can give us areas and processes that are potential targets for therapeutic treatments.
Any interesting hobbies you’d like to share?
I don’t know if they’re interesting but I love to run and I love to read … sometimes I do both at once, thanks to audiobooks!
How would you describe your ideal day off? (Scientists are people too!)
On my downtime, I like to start the day with good coffee and a run, spend time with my daughter, find a quiet corner with a good book and play with my kittens … both my daughter and the kittens are growing too fast!
Please welcome Claire Kotecki (@klarusu) to Real Scientists!