Jennifer Shelton - PhD Candidate
I'm a PhD student at Imperial with Prof. Mat Fisher and at UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. I have organised two citizen science projects asking people to collect air and soil samples from their homes and workplaces from which I've cultured Aspergillus fumigatus: a ubiquitous mould with the potential to cause lung disease. I then tested the moulds isolates for susceptibility to azole drugs, that are simultaneously sprayed on crops to protect against fungal pathogens and used to treat aspergillosis lung disease, to determine the background levels of resistance in the environment and whether this is determined by land use, proximity to industrial composters or climate factors.
My inspiration is the mycologist Paul Stamets who has spent his lifetime discovering fungi in pristine North American forests and discovering new uses for them ranging from medicines, agricultural products, biosecurity and bioremediation. Everyone should watch his TED talk "6 ways mushrooms can save the world" - it's incredible and makes me excited for the potential of fungal species, of which we've only discovered 4% of an estimated 3.8 million, for our health and our planet's.
Being a scientist is the thing I am most proud of. No one in my family is involved in science and I wasn't particularly inspired by science lessons at school, but I took science A-levels as I thought they would be the subjects I was least likely to learn outside of school. Biology A-level was fantastic and from the first epidemiology lecture on my undergraduate course I knew that I wanted to be an epidemiologist, and it is the MSc Modern Epidemiology that brought me to Imperial. Since then I have worked as a genetic epidemiologist on malaria, the frog fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis and now the environmental decomposer and human pathogen Aspergillus fumigatus. When things return to normal I hope to be able to give more school talks to show that science is amazing, unlike the school science curriculum!
Exercise! It's been difficult to stay motivated at times during lockdown but running, cycling and bodyweight exercise routines have maintained a level of normality in these crazy circumstances. I was fortunate to be able to take part in Blenheim triathlon last September and hope to take part in two more triathlons this year, restrictions allowing. I can also now do press-ups, which I couldn't do at the start of lockdown!