The Thomas Henry Huxley Award and Marsh Prize

This Award is run in partnership with the Zoological Society of London and recognises a postgraduate research student whose thesis has made a significant contribution to a particular scientific field. Nominees are considered from a University of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, on the basis of original work, which has been awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the academic year in which the Award is presented.

The projects are judged by a panel of experts from the ZSL, who then select the winning study.

The Zoological Society of London is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity whose mission is to promote and achieve the worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats.

(2016 Awards were presented in 2017)

The 2016 winner is Shan Quah

Shan won this Award for her study entitled, ‘Conservation and innovation – the evolution of the metazoan microRNA landscape and its contribution to reproduction and development.’

Shan’s aim was to search for evolutionary ‘new’ microRNAs (miRNAs), to examine how miRNA genes originate and gain new functions relevant to animal evolution. She did extensive small RNA sequencing of all life cycle stages of two lepidopteran species. From the miRNA data that Shan generated, she worked out that there had been a ‘burst’ of miRNA invention in early lepidopteran evolution.

Shan took her paper further in two ways. Firstly, she discovers that one of the new miRNAs resides in the intron of an embryonic patterning gene and focused her attention on this, discovering a potential target gene for it in the same developmental pathway, which is a rare achievement. Secondly, she used the extensive data that she had gathered to formulate a revised model of miRNA evolution, which emphasises gene loss as much as gene gain.

All of the experimental and bioinformatics work in the paper was done by Shan and she provided the major intellectual input as well.


The Zoological Society of London
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