29 July 2022
Holly Shiels is based at the University of Manchester, UK, where her lab investigates the interplay between environment and cardiac physiology. They are currently working on the tolerance of fishes to hypoxia and to changes in temperature, as well as the effects of microplastics and crude oil on cardiac health. This latter research area also relates to broader concerns about air pollution, since crude oil contains polyaromatic hydrocarbons, which are the same molecules that form a ‘corona’ around particulate matter in the air we breathe.
Holly’s work involves a good amount of fieldwork, and one of the most enigmatic species her team studies is the Greenland shark. This huge fish is incredibly long-lived, with a lifespan of at least 272 years. The ultimate cause of death for a large proportion of the human population is cardiac disease, so Holly’s group are studying the shark’s cardiovascular system for clues to its longevity. “We started off by just doing a lot of basic cardiac biology because it was such an understudied species,” Holly said.
Holly first came across The Company of Biologists when Tony Farrell, her supervisor, encouraged her to join the Society for Experimental Biology (SEB) as a Master’s student, and her first publication was in Journal of Experimental Biology. “The place where you put your first paper always feels like a home,” she explained. Holly also recalls the assistance she received from The Company of Biologists during key moments of her early career. “The Company of Biologists supported my work at important career transitions through their Travelling Fellowships,” she said, describing how the funding had allowed her to travel to Hawaii to work on tuna. A second Travelling Fellowship funded a visit to Finland, where she learnt to do patch clamping with Matti Vornanen. Holly still collaborates with Matti and the group in Hawaii to this day.
Holly’s positive experiences with the Company meant it was an easy decision when she was asked to join our Board of Directors, a role she has held since 2018. One of the Director activities she is most passionate about is the Sustainable Conferencing Initiative, which seeks innovative ideas from the community to help the Company ingrain sustainability into our work as scientists. She also sits on the Editorial Advisory Board for Journal of Experimental Biology. “The thing about being on The Company of Biologists’ Board is that you see how the publishing of their journals helps to support the community,” she said. “It feels like an academic family; a family supported by a not-for-profit publisher.”